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The Explosion at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro Plant

written by: sriram balu • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 1/9/2010

On 17th August 2009, some repair work in the engine and turbine room caused a sudden “pressure surge” in one of the water pipes and caused the pipe to burst out, letting huge quantities of water into the turbine and engine room. Twelve people died and 68 are missing.

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    The Dam and Power Plant’s Location and Characteristic Features

    The construction of the “Sayano-Shushenskaya” hydro-electric power plant started in 1968 and took almost ten years for completion. It was commissioned in 1978. For any hydroelectric power plant, there has to be huge quantities of water supply. For this plant it is from the Yenisei River. The exact location of this river is near Sayanogorsk in Khakassia, Russia. One of the most important aspect of this power plant is it is the largest power plant in Russia and the fifth largest hydroelectric plant in the entire world.

    dam overview 

    The dam is of the arch-gravity type, which is the optimization of both the arch type and the gravity type. This dam supports the Sayano-Shushenskoe reservoir with a total capacity of about 31.34 cubic kilometers. The entire dam has four parts, each of varying capacity. They are a solid left-bank dam, a solid right-bank dam, a power dam, and the spill-way dam. It is to be noted that the spill-way dam is used when there is excess accumulation of water during rainy seasons. This helps in by-passing the huge turbines in the power plant, thus maintaining the required water level in the reservoir.The power plant has ten turbines of six hundred and forty megawatts each. The total capacity is around six thousand four hundred (6400 Mw) and annual power generation is of the range of 23.5 terawatt hours.

    Dam and Reservoir 

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    The explosion caused catastrophic events which lead to the loss of ten or more human lives and more than 56 missing people. As a result, major aluminum industries have been affected and to some extent caused environmental pollution. Let's look at an overview of the location, construction, and some characteristic features of the dam and the power plant, and learn about the causes and effects of the explosion in the power plant.

    Dam in operation 

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    The Accident at Sayano-Shushenskaya

    On 17th August 2009, some repair work in the engine and turbine room caused a sudden “pressure surge” in one of the water pipes and caused the pipe to burst, releasing huge quantities of water into the turbine and engine room. The outburst led to catastrophic events and major devastation.

    As the power plant used very high capacity transformers for stepping-up or stepping-down the voltages, the inundation gushed into the transformer area and is assumed to have created a short-circuit causing a sudden, heavy explosion. As can be seen in the pictures below, there appears to have been a series of explosions that caused the power plant’s buildings to collapse. Due to the collapse of the building and flooding of the turbine and engine room, out of ten turbines, three turbines have been totally destroyed and another three suffered damages. On the human front, the result is 12 deaths and 68 missing people.


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    The Effects of the Accident at Sayano-Shushenskaya

    The power plant was supplying almost 25% of its power to aluminum industries and smelters. Because of this accident, it caused a complete blackout in the near-by cities and towns. The aluminum industries where made to run on the emergency power and it has been estimated that around 500,000 tons of aluminum will be lost due to the power shortage. Replacement of the turbines completely may take up to four years. The incident caused considerable amount of pollution as 40 tons of transformer oil caused an oil spill on the waters. This has made a slick for about 80 Kilometers downstream the river Yenisei. The spill killed 400 tons of cultivated trout and damaged the entire environment. The share values of RUSHYDRO dropped by almost 15% in the London Stock Exchange. Company management has estimated that the re-building work in the engine room alone would cost them around $1.2 billion. The government has undertaken great efforts for the search and rescue operation by engaging divers and special robots. Reports say that as of now, 80% of the wreckage has been cleared from the fifth turbine and 90% from the first turbine. Totally around 4000 cubic meters of structural debris have been removed.

    Damaged turbine 

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    Image Credits:

    Al Jazeera video on youtube