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3 Oct, 2009 17:44

Siberian power plant blast causes revealed

Organizational problems, negligence and equipment failure have been named as the main causes for an August 17 accident at Russia’s biggest power plant that claimed the lives of 75 people.

On Saturday, Russia’s industrial safety watchdog, Rostechnadzor, presented its 100-page report on the findings of a technical investigation into the blast at the Sayno-Shushenskaya plant in the Republic of Khakassia in Siberia.

“The commission has concluded that the accident was caused as a result of a number of errors: organizational problems, negligence and equipment failure,” said Nikolay Kutyin, the head of Rostechnadzor. 

“It wasn’t an overnight process”

What’s now clear is that the accident could have been avoided.

Kutyin said that the investigation of the site “has shown that the metal was worn out and caused the turbine to explode.”

The roots of the dam blast go back to the 1980s.

“It was not an overnight process, it took many years. That's why we cannot say that the accident only happened because the fixing failed,”
Kutyin said. “Basically, the conditions under which the equipment was being used were not suitable. The scale of its use was too big.”

The commission said that the power station’s personnel were not trained to deal with the kind of situation that occurred on August 17.

Also, according to the findings, the disaster had been indirectly caused by a fire at the transmission line of another power station that happened on the eve of the explosion.

As a result of the blaze, all channels of communication with the plant and obtaining telemetric information were lost for some time. Therefore, it was decided to put the entire burden of running the regional grid on the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant. Before it had been doing 20% of the job and the Bratskaya plant was responsible for the rest.

Who to blame?

According to the report, a total of 18 people – including the head of the company that owns the plant, Rushydro, and of the plant itself  – are responsible for the disaster.

Rostekhnadzor also revealed a list of six persons to be blamed for creating conditions that led to the deadly dam blast. Former electricity monopoly chief Anatoly Chubais and ex-energy minister Igor Yusufov are among them.

However, the watchdog’s head, Kutyin underlined that those guilty would be announced in court.

Earlier on Saturday, Russian Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko said that the acting chief executive of Rushydro “was not directly to blame” for the deadly accident on August 17 and that the cause of the disaster was “the way the system was performing.”

Meanwhile, the head of a committee of the parents of those killed on August 17 said he was dissatisfied with the results of the Rostekhnadzor probe, RIA Novosti agency reported, citing the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Nikolai Zholob said the list of those responsible should include at least 30 officials.

$717 million to repair damages

Economic damage caused by the accident exceeds 7.5 billion rubles ($244 million), which includes the loss from the wreckage of major power generating assets, and environmental damage.

On Saturday, a reconstruction plan for Russia’s biggest power plant was approved and $717 million will be allocated to repair the damages.

“The budget for work to repair the Sayno-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power plant has been approved at 5.6 billion rubles [$186 million] in 2009 and 16 billion rubles [$531 million] in 2010,” Shmatko told reporters.

The company that owns the station, Rushydro, has already paid compensation to the families of the dead employees and injured workers, around 110 million rubles in total (approximately $3.637 million), but the money has done nothing to dispel the feeling of grief.

“There is a town near the hydroelectric plant. At least one person from each family worked there or is working there now. In this town almost everybody has a relative or friend who died during the disaster," Yulia Vishnevetskaya of the Russian Reporter Magazine told RT.

The plant is due to partially resume operating next year, but the replacement of all the damaged generator units is not expected until 2014.