What's Going On 16:41 06 Jun 2023

Destruction of Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant: what will be the consequences and what to do now

Rubryka learned about the primary and secondary consequences for the environment and the population that occurred and may occur after the explosion on the Kakhovska hydro-power plant.

What is the problem?

On June 6, at 02:50, the Russian occupying forces blew up the previously mined Kakhovska HPP. The explosion destroyed 11 of the 28 sections of the reservoir. The approximate width of the breakthrough is 177 meters.

Destruction of the dam in Nova Kakhovka is a war crime under the Geneva Convention, but Russia systematically violates its rules during the war in Ukraine.

The destruction of hydroelectric power plants is considered a weapon of mass destruction and a war crime of indiscriminate action, according to Article 56 of Additional Protocol I of 1977.

The Prosecutor General's Office noted that an investigation under the article of ecocide has already been launched due to the fact that the occupiers blew up the Kakhovska HPP.

"Ecocide continues in Ukraine, and with today's disaster — the destruction of the Kakhovska HPP — the Russian army is once again destroying and terrorizing our environment and the environment of the entire planet, thus threatening the entire civilized world," stated Yulia Markhel, leader of Ukraine's largest environmental movement "Let's do it Ukraine."

Now experts predict that the water level in Kherson may rise to 5 meters. Residents of the city, suburbs, and some other large cities of Ukraine, who used water from the reservoir, have already noticed problems with the water supply. For example, water from the water supply in Crimea is already contaminated with various impurities similar to clay.

наслідки підриву ГЕС

Kherson was flooded on the first day after the hydroelectric power plant was blown up

The event has already been called a disaster, as it can lead to many human casualties and significant economic and environmental consequences.

Кахвське водосховище, катастрофа

A graph by the Ministry of Environment shows the possible risks depending on the water level in the Kakhovka Reservoir. Currently, more than 200,000 residents of Nikopol, Marhanets, and surrounding areas are without drinking water

At least without a nuclear disaster

The explosion of the Kakhovska HPP created certain risks for the operation of the Zaporizhzhiaa nuclear power plant since water from the Kakhovka Reservoir is necessary for the station to receive power for the turbine capacitors and safety systems of the ZNPP. The situation is under control for now, at least according to Energoatom.

"Now the station's cooling pond is full: as of 8:00 a.m., the water level is 16.6 meters, and this is enough for the station's needs," the message reads.

Energoatom monitors the situation and follows the actions of workers at the ZNPP together with other international organizations present at the plant, in particular, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The nuclear power plant is not the main problem now. The very fact of the occupation of the nuclear power plant by people who blew up the hydroelectric power plant threatens the nuclear power plant and the whole world," Maksym Soroka, environmental expert, comments.

"The sudden drop of water in the Kakhovka Reservoir creates risks and problems for the safety engineering networks of the NPP, but this NPP was not designed by fools, so there is no need to panic. Energoatom honestly reported that the trough of the cooling tank is full. The situation is being monitored."

Нова Каховка, ГЕСNova Kakhovka goes underwater after the detonation of the HPP. Photo from the Internet

Up to 280 tons of oils, which were in the HPP units, created a surface film that will settle to the bottom of the flooded area

This is a real ecological disaster for southern Ukraine and the Black Sea basin. On the first day after the detonation, we can observe short-term destructive consequences — catastrophic and partial flooding of the territories. It is possible that later, information will appear about the deaths of people and animals. The numbers of these destructions will be impressive, but they will not illustrate all the possible damage Ukraine will have to face.

At the meeting of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, which was convened due to the explosion of the Kakhovska HPP, it was said that 150 tons of machine oil had already entered the Dnipro River, and there is also a risk of further leakage of more than 300 tons into the river. Ecologist Soroka explains where this oil comes from. From the photos and videos that are already available, it is clear that the engine room of the Kakhovska HPP is completely gone. Hydroelectric power is when torque is converted into electrical energy through turbines and other interesting mechanical devices. So, these mechanical units contain many fuels, lubricating materials, and cooling fluids. Now it's all going downstream.

According to the expert, 150 tons is a real and even underestimated number. Soroka explains that spilled oils form a surface film and settle in bottom sediments.

"It will not bring anything good for the ecosystem," the expert stated.

Херсон, затоплення

Kherson's streets flooded on the first day after the hydroelectric power plant was blown up. Photo from the Internet

Secondary consequences: epidemiological risks, spillage of chemicals, pollution with nitrogen and phosphorus compounds

In 2022, Rubryka already prepared an article that considered the probable consequences of undermining dams of reservoirs located on the Dnipro River, including the Kakhovka one. The environmental expert Soroka drew attention to the fact that there will be delayed ones in addition to the first destructive consequences. Sweeping away everything in its path, the water is contaminated with chemicals from industrial enterprises, mixed with sewage, etc. The expert explained that the epidemiological risks and water pollution increase many times over.

So far, Soroka has already commented on the urgent situation:

  • The flooding of cesspits, sewage networks, drainage, and other treatment facilities will inevitably lead to water pollution (however, this is not the worst-case scenario).
  • Given the agro-industrial area's specifics and the events' unexpected nature, warehouses and other facilities for storing chemical plant protection agents and fertilizers were flooded. This is already bad, especially for fertilizers, and it is extremely difficult to assess the damage.
  • Flooding and tidal flow will inevitably lead to secondary pollution of the water mass with suspended substances and biogenic elements (nitrogen and phosphorus compounds). It will be possible to say whether this has serious consequences in 5-10 days.

Bird nesting and fish spawning are interrupted, and unique plants of southern Ukraine may be destroyed

Ecologist Vladyslav Balinskyi said the consequences of undermining the Kakhovka reservoir dam would have a global ecological character for the Black Sea region. According to him, the unique natural ecosystem of the floodplain of the Dnipro from Nova Kakhovka to the Dnipro-Buzka estuary, which is over 80,000 hectares of the Lower Dnipro natural territory, has actually been destroyed.

"A man-made disaster of this scale significantly exceeds the adaptive capacity of the swimming biotope. Hundreds of islets, areas of unique floodplain forest, flooded meadows, and steppe areas of the lower slopes with all their inhabitants were washed into the sea," comments the ecologist.

The breeding season of birds, the period of nesting and spawning of fish, as well as hundreds of species of living organisms, of which 71 species of animals and 32 species of plants are included in the World Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as well as the European Red List, the Red Book of Ukraine and the Red List of the Kherson Region, are under threat.

Possible delayed consequences: dust storms, rising temperatures, turning the area into a desert

It is also important that the reservoir of Kakhovka HPP was an important ecological environment and a source of fresh water for many species of plants and animals.

If a huge sandy bottom is opened, there will be a new desert with all the climatic consequences: a decrease in precipitation, dust storms, and a rise in temperature in the region. Accordingly, there is a greater risk of drought in the fields of the center and south of Ukraine, "Let's do it, Ukraine," experts noted. They note that the lack of water in the Kakhovka Sea will lead to the drying of the fields of southern Ukraine with further desertification.

There will be significant environmental, social, economic, sanitary, and other consequences, but in the long term. Meanwhile, experts suggest "not to play fortune-telling" but to focus on the main problems, the main one of which is the evacuation of the population.

Other regions should prepare to meet 400,000 evacuees 

Soroka explained in a Facebook thread what the consequences could be for other regions of Ukraine. These are restrictions on water use and the influx of refugees. According to the ecologist, the first thing to do is to evacuate people from flooding areas. "Other regions of Ukraine — we are preparing for 400,000 refugees and, in the long term, for 150,000 climate refugees. This is a big problem," comments the expert.

Limited use of water for residents of cities that live higher up the cascade of the Dnipro reservoirs

The situation will not affect water quality in the Dnipro and Kremenchuk South-Ukrainian reservoirs. Still, many populated cities will switch to decentralized water supply in emergency conditions. This applies to Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, and Kryvyi Rih. Panic moods almost disabled the systems of the second and third rise of water in the networks of these cities. Therefore, temporary restrictions on water users are justified. Limiting consumers in big cities is a good idea. All because of panic. If the automation burns out on the second rise of water, it can be quickly fixed. However, if the motor windings wear out, this is a problem for 3-5 days without water. Our networks are not designed for all 200,000 people to take baths simultaneously, comments the expert.

For some time, the water supply to field irrigation systems in the Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhia regions may stop, mainly on occupied lands. Many cities and villages that consume it from the Kakhovka Canal risk being left without drinking water, particularly occupied Berdyansk.

The situation is the same in Crimea. Due to the undermining of the Kakhovka HPP, Crimea lost its most important irrigation channel and was virtually left without a source of fresh water.

Нова Каховка, ГЕС

The water supply channels that carried water from the Kakhovka Reservoir are marked in red. Source: Euromaidan Press

What is the solution?

The first and foremost solution is to evacuate the population. Local authorities have already started this process, but residents of other regions need to prepare to receive evacuees. According to the forecasts described above, the number of IDPs will reach half a million people.

Refusal of excessive water use by residents of cities located higher up the cascade of the Dnipro reservoirs. Panic causes people to put water in tubs and store it excessively. However, as already mentioned above, the system may not be able to withstand such a load, and in this case, Ukrainians can stay without water for several days. Use water sparingly, and refrain from watering the vegetable garden in the coming days.

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