The keys and consequences of the destruction of the Nova Kajovka dam in Ukraine | International

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Ukraine accuses Russia of having destroyed the Nova Kakhovka dam, some 60 kilometers from the city of Kherson, upstream of the Dnieper, and the junction point between the territory controlled by Kiev and that occupied by Moscow troops in the south of Ukraine. The Government of Vladimir Putin denies, however, being responsible for the blasting and assures that it is due to its deterioration after months of fighting in the area. Beyond the accusations, the dam has a central strategic importance in the conflict since, to the northeast, it keeps the level of the reservoir that supplies water for cooling the most important nuclear power plant in Europe, Zaporizhia, under control. Russian, but it also supplies water to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014. All this without taking into account the environmental and humanitarian disaster that I could cause, with flooded areas and crops and thousands of evacuees.

The dam is part of the hydroelectric power station of the same name, located on the bank of the Dnieper currently controlled by Russia. It is the sixth and last dam on the river before it reaches the Black Sea. It was built in 1950 and inaugurated six years later with the intention not only to generate energy, but also to guarantee irrigation and downstream navigation. The infrastructure is crossed by a road and a railway line that connects the two banks ―the right in the hands of the Ukrainians; the left, from the Russians. It has a length of 3.2 kilometers and a height from its base of about 30 meters.

Is the nuclear power plant in danger?

The reservoir that it forms, that of Kajovka, extends from the dam of the Dnieper hydroelectric power station, located in the city of Zaporizhia and cools the six nuclear reactors of the nuclear power plant, located in the town of Energodar, the largest in Europe. , located 150 kilometers upstream of the demolished dam. Both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Moscow government, which controls the plant, have assured this morning that the facility is not threatened despite Kiev warning of a growing risk of catastrophe, according to France Presse.

"There is no immediate nuclear danger," the IAEA has stated on its Twitter account, which ensures that its experts are "closely monitoring" the situation. The same has been assured by the Russian management of the facilities: “There is no threat to the security of the nuclear power plant. Five reactors are cold shutdown and one hot shutdown. The level of the water used for cooling has not changed”, its director, Yuri Chernichuk, assured on Telegram.

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The destruction of the dam, however, could affect the Ukrainian energy infrastructure, one of the main military objectives of the Russian forces since the beginning of the invasion, which have not stopped bombarding basic facilities for the supply of electricity. Its blasting implies the disablement of the hydroelectric power station it fed, also located in territory controlled by Moscow.

However, Ukraine's Energy Minister German Galushchenko has been quick to say in a statement that the destruction of the dam does not pose a direct threat to the country's electricity supply, Reuters reports. “The explosion did not directly affect the energy system. There are no threats to the stability of electricity supply,” Galushchenko said. “The energy produced is enough to meet the needs of consumers,” he added.

Will it cause an environmental and humanitarian disaster?

The water level in Nova Kajovka (in the part controlled by Russia) had risen a few hours after the explosion by 10 meters, according to the mayor of the town imposed by Moscow, who has assured that the expected increase was two more meters. “The water continues to rise. We are evacuating civilians from the flooded areas to avoid loss of life. There is no panic in the city,” Vladimir Leontyev said, Reuters reports. The city still has electricity, but two other settlements downstream had lost it after 8:00 a.m. The water is expected to continue to rise for the next 72 hours, when cleanup work can begin.

Thousands of people on both sides of the river will be affected by the collapse of the dam. On the side controlled by kyiv, evacuation work has already begun from Nova Kajovka to Kherson, some 60 kilometers downstream and already at the mouth. In total, some 22,000 residents of 14 towns in the zone occupied by Russia are in danger, according to the occupation authorities. The Government of Ukraine has assured that the risk of flooding affects a total of 80 populations.

The ecological impact on the ecosystem can also be very important. The Swedish company Dämmningsverket published in October 2022 a computer simulation of what would be the consequences of destroying all the gates of the dam. Dämmningsverket estimated that the worst hit would be the city of Kherson, with a rise in the water level of up to five meters.

Image of the flooded areas downstream of the Nova Kajovka dam. ENERGOATOM STATE COMPANY (via REUTERS)

How will it affect the water supply in Crimea?

The destruction of the Nova Kajovka dam will especially affect Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. The occupation governor of that territory has warned of the risk that the northern Crimean canal, which supplies 85% of that territory from the Dnieper , may fall as a consequence of the blowing up of the infrastructure, which would cause shortages among the population and problems in crops in the north of the peninsula.

After the annexation by Russia nine years ago, the kyiv government has blocked the water supply on several occasions, generating cuts in the supply, according to Reuters. Russia only guaranteed it again after the invasion.

Can you upset the Ukraine counteroffensive?

On Monday, the Moscow government declared the Ukrainian counteroffensive started. Despite kyiv's informative silence, his troops began some offensive actions both in the east and in the south of the front. The government of Volodimir Zelenski, which accuses Russia of destroying the dam, has assured that the Kremlin's intention is to stop the Ukrainian advance, while the occupation authorities have accused Kiev of blowing up the dam with the alleged intention of generating a diversionary maneuver at this key moment in the war.

The dam acted as a bridge between the area controlled by kyiv and the one occupied by Putin's troops. The passage of the Ukrainian army through that area would be the shortest way to open a corridor from which it could advance towards the Crimea. Now, a possible military operation of these characteristics to advance towards the south appears much more uncertain.

Both the European Union and NATO, which support Ukraine both economically and militarily, have blamed Russia for the disaster. “The destruction of the Kakhovka reservoir endangers thousands of civilians and causes serious environmental damage. This is a scandalous act that once again demonstrates the brutality of Russia's war in Ukraine," said the Secretary General of the Atlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg. “I am shocked by this unprecedented attack. The destruction of civilian infrastructure is clearly a war crime and we will hold Russia and its representatives accountable ”, said the president of the European Council, the Belgian Charles Michel.

Now it remains to be seen if the destruction of the dam opens a new episode in the future of the conflict with a new escalation.

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