Threat of the Dnieper reservoirs


Threat of the Dnieper reservoirs

The water reservoirs of the Dnieper River in Ukraine pose a significant threat of a large-scale human-made disaster if their dams fail. Such a threat is typical for reservoir dams; however, the Dnieper reservoirs are especially dangerous because of the geographical conditions, as well as the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster and other nuclear-related environmental threats in the region.

While the safety studies of each dam are regularly performed and the public assurances about individual dam's condition were given multiple times,"The dam of the Kiev's power plant will be around for a thousand of years", - the chief engineer of the "Skhema Dnepra" [the "Pattern of the Dnieper river"] institution Yefim Bakshayev seems to be tired of repeating those words. "The catastrophe is possible if it is directly hit by the nuclear bomb. I think that no one would then be around to be saved from flooding. Yes, the accidents are possible at peace time if the metallic structures of the dam are not replaced on time. But this is taken care of for the Kiev dam. Besides, in the Netherlands, one third of the country spans across the territories gained from the sea. People build the reservoirs there for 400 years and no one is afraid of this proximity. Most importnant is to build the dam competently, provide it with modern equipment and follow on its operation [...] The capital is fully protected from flooding"
ru icon Lyudmila Kovalchuk, " [http://today.viaduk.net/todayol.nsf/b8b1d8d60f80fef4c2256b870037a906/c2256713004f33f5c2256b8600445935!OpenDocument Kiev Reservoir: where the radioactive silt is now there were 52 villages] ", "Sevodnya", March 23, 2005.] the comprehensive analysis of the overall safety of the dams as a system or the impeding dangers that the damaged dam would cause has never been performed to this day. Various different scenarios of what would happen in case of the dam damage predict the catastrophes varying only by the scale (provided that one of the dams would indeed break down). According to the worst predictions and taking into account the already available radioactive contamination, a dam accident may result in a major threat for significant territories of Ukraine, and, possibly, the Black Sea basin.

The reservoirs

During the Soviet era, the Ukrainian part of the Dnieper River flow was turned into a system of hydroelectric power plants by forming of five artificial reservoirs. Listed downstream, these reservoirs are:
* Kiev Reservoir (alias "Kiev Sea")
* Kaniv Reservoir
* Kremenchuk Reservoir
* Dniprodzerzhynsk Reservoir
* Dnieper Reservoir
* Kakhovka Reservoir

The creation of reservoirs significantly boosted the Soviet energy industry and created a deep-water route on the river, formerly innavigable in certain sections. However, by diminishing flow velocity and altering river flow (see Irpin River), the reservoirs caused environmental problems such as adverse changes in the balance of aquatic life forms, coastline erosion, and many others. The evacuation of significant territories now covered by the reservoirs was costly, and later, the system proved to be economically ineffective,Fact|date=February 2007 as reservoirs’ waters began flooding important objects, most notably mines in the Nikopol region.

The hyperflooding risk

Like with other reservoirs, Dnieper reservoirs pose a potential threat of causing major flooding if their dams fail. Such damage may be inflicted by a powerful natural disaster (e.g., an earthquake), a human-made disaster, or a deliberate attack by terrorists or enemy forces at war.

The dams are supposed to be strong enough to survive natural and terrorist threats. Both their construction schemes and government efforts work towards this goal. For instance, some engineers guarantee that every Dnieper dam will survive an earthquake (to its typical regional extent), meteorite or aircraft falling."The dam of the Kiev's power plant will be around for a thousand of years", - the chief engineer of the "Skhema Dnepra" [the "Pattern of the Dnieper river"] institution Yefim Bakshayev seems to be tired of repeating those words. "The catastrophe is possible if it is directly hit by the nuclear bomb. I think that no one would then be around to be saved from flooding. Yes, the accidents are possible at peace time if the metallic structures of the dam are not replaced on time. But this is taken care of for the Kiev dam. Besides, in the Netherlands, one third of the country spans across the territories gained from the sea. People build the reservoirs there for 400 years and no one is afraid of this proximity. Most importnant is to build the dam competently, provide it with modern equipment and follow on its operation [...] The capital is fully protected from flooding"
ru icon Lyudmila Kovalchuk, " [http://today.viaduk.net/todayol.nsf/b8b1d8d60f80fef4c2256b870037a906/c2256713004f33f5c2256b8600445935!OpenDocument Kiev Reservoir: where the radioactive silt is now there were 52 villages] ", "Segodnya", March 23, 2005.] There are also countermeasures against overflooding and malfunction of dams. Authorities pay significant attention to safeguarding the dams and bridges by special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other security agencies.uk icon Ю. П. Сурмін, Р. Н. Аврамчук, [http://www.niisp.gov.ua/vydanna/panorama/issue.php?s=prnb2&issue=2001_1-2 СТРУКТУРИ, ЗАСОБИ І СТРАТЕГІЯ РОЗВ'ЯЗАННЯ ПРОБЛЕМ НАЦІОНАЛЬНОЇ БЕЗПЕКИ] (Framework, means and strategy of the state security.), by [http://www.niisp.gov.ua/index.php National Institute of State Security] , Ukrainian governmental agency.]

However, the Dnieper reservoirs pose a special risk by the fact that they form a cascade with an atypically short distance between them. In the case of one upper dam failure, massive flooding will impact other dams within hours, subsequently releasing lower reservoirs to the Black Sea. A similar disaster occurred with the Banqiao Dam, resulting in a cascade of 62 dam failures. Assessments of losses in a possible Dnieper hyperflooding vary, but remain very pessimistic.Fact|date=February 2007

In case of a dam failure, floodwaters may devastate densely populated areas around Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, forcing evacuation and possibly killing millions, and destroying major industrial areas. A failure of the Kiev Reservoir would cause a flooding of the low-lying areas of Kiev, mainly densely-populated residential neighborhoods.ru icon/Uk icon Zoya Vishnevskaya "Before the thunder Rolls"."Zerkalo Nedeli (Mirror Weekly)", March 13-19, 2004. Available online [http://www.zerkalo-nedeli.com/nn/show/485/45872/ in Russian] , [http://www.zn.kiev.ua/ie/show/485/45872/ in Ukrainian] ] The aftermath of a possible complex flooding also include the widespread contamination by industrial and urban wastes and creation of swamps on bottoms of emptied reservoirs.

The first concerns about possible hyperflooding were raised in the 1980s.Fact|date=February 2007 In 2001–2003 the Security Service of Ukraine organized exercises on the Kiev Hydroelectric station, simulating a possible terrorist attack. The results of the exercises were considered satisfactory.

The reservoirs as a radioactive hypercontamination threat

Discussion of possible hyperflooding revealed another much more significant threat when hypothetical details of the incident were studied. First of all, a release of each but the southernmost reservoir would damage several top-hazard nuclear sites in the Dnieper basin, as explained below. Subsequently, the whole Black Sea area would be radioactively contaminated to a significant extent. This would cause a Europe-wide nuclear disaster by means of large-distance air and water circulation.

The Kiev Reservoir threat

After the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster in 1986, radionuclides washed away by rains contaminated the bottom silt of the Kiev Reservoir. During the years following the disaster, there were suggestions to drain the reservoir because it was too shallow. It appeared that, if done, this could have caused the tremendous amounts of silt to turn into radioactive dust, free to be dispersed by wind. In that case, scientists predict even more serious disaster than hyperflooding. According to some assessments, dust clouds would devastatingly contaminate the whole Europe. Some scholars regard such disaster as the terminal one.Fact|date=February 2007

Authorities reassured that the dangerous silt poses no actual danger if reservoir kept intact, and dismissed the draining plans.See Kovalcuk reference above.] But this has re-energized concerns about "accidental" release of the Kiev Reservoir (and all subsequent reservoirs).Fact|date=February 2007

The nuclear industry sites under threat of possible flooding

The cities of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, standing on the Dnieper, contain dozens of hazardous industrial sites, mostly toxic wastes dumps, which may be destroyed not only by hyperflooding but also by weather extremes due to their poor protection.

The most dangerous among those sites are the radioactive dumps in the riverbank city of Dniprodzerzhynsk. The now-defunct Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant (PHZ) has been enriching uranium ores for Soviet nuclear program from 1948 till 1991, preparing the so-called Yellowcake substance. Its processing wastes are now stored in 9 open-air dumping grounds containing about 36 million tones of sand-like low-radioactive material, occupying area of 2,5 million square meters. The sites, improperly constructed from the very beginning, have been abandoned by industry long ago and remain in very poor condition. The top concern is the dumps’ closeness to both the Dnieper River and city residential areas. According to government experts, the dams separating the grounds from soil water are already leaking, causing the pollution of Dnieper basin. It is believed that further deterioration of the dams in itself may cause a devastating radioactive mudslide. Ukrainian government is now acquiring control over the grounds and seeking international aid in projects, aimed at securing and gradual re-processing PHZ wastes. Recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency has evaluated the condition of the sites and is considering a major observation&aid mission to Dniprodzerzhynsk. [ [http://news2000.org.ua/print?a=%2Fpaper%2F5789 Uranium wastes threaten the east of Ukraine] , "2000", July 14, 2006; [http://www.ukrindustrial.com/news/index.php?newsid=203647 France to help removing industrial dump in Dniprodzerhynsk] , "Ukrayina Promyshlennaya", February 26, 2008; [http://gorod.dp.ua/news/news.php?id=9548 IAEA technical experts start working in Dniprodzerzhynsk] , "Gorod", March 4, 2008; [http://news.ugmk.info/?from=80&page=0&sfera=4&code=1205225540 IAEA expert group finished inspecting the PHZ] , "UGMK", March 11, 2008]

Ukraine’s uranium ore mines (which products have been enriched by PHZ) are also situated in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast in proximity of the Dnieper and its tributaries, particularly in the town of Zhovti Vody.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is also situated within miles from the Dnieper, in the left-bank city of Enerhodar.

In case of a hyperflooding, hazardous materials from these and many other industrial sites may be poured on surrounding territories and the Black Sea.

Government position and recent concerns

The safety issue of the Dnieper reservoirs has never been discussed on a state level during Soviet rule. It was only in 1990s when authorities of independent Ukraine acknowledged the discussion officially. However, Ukrainian government never admitted the threat being a real one. Occasional concerns about underfunding of the dams-operating state company were raised in early 2000s, but the issue has been settled.Fact|date=February 2007

New concerns arose in 2005 after a fake terrorist threat case. A police officer, dissatisfied with his commanders, anonymously called an emergency line stating that he had planted a bomb in a cargo train crossing the Kiev Reservoir's dam. An immediate check proved the threat to be fake and the alerter was arrested. But the incident caused another wave of public concern.ru icon/uk icon "The caller is out of the calling area", "Zerkalo Nedeli (Mirror Weekly)", April 23 - May 6, 2005, available online [http://www.zerkalo-nedeli.com/nn/show/543/49907/ in Russian] , [http://www.zn.kiev.ua/ie/show/543/49907/ in Ukrainian] ]

On May 30, 2006 researcher Vasily Kredo alerted the nation again, calling the Kiev Reservoir “the most dangerous place on the planet”. The researcher says there is a remote possibility of a “radioactive tsunami from the Kiev Sea” that would kill 15 million and make Ukraine “never revive again”.ru icon [http://www.korrespondent.net/main/155031 Kiev Sea dam is in 93% emergency state] , Korrespondent.net, May 30, 2006]

ee also

* Dnieper Hydroelectric Station
* Operation Chastise
* nuclear industry
* Chernobyl compared to other radioactivity releases
* Chernobyl disaster effects
* Chernobyl Heart
* Chernobyl in the popular consciousness

References

:Notes:Bibliography
* " [http://www.kv.com.ua/index.php?article=757&number_old=2535 The strange initiative] ", "Kievskiye Vedomosti", January 31, 2002
* " [http://www.korrespondent.net/main/159114 Chernovetsky will check "the most dangerous place on the planet"] ", "Korrespondent".net, July 19, 2006

External links

* [http://www.discoverychannel.co.uk/battle_of_chernobyl/consequences/index.shtml Battle of Chernobyl: The Consequences] - details about the radioactive contamination


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