Victims of hydro plant disaster mourned one year on

A chapel on the background of the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro power plant (RIA Novosti / Alexandr Kryazhev)
On Tuesday, Russia commemorates the 75 people who died last year during the accident at Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant. A year since the tragic event, the investigation into it has not yet finished.

The hydropower plant in the Siberian republic of Khakassia was the marvel and pride of Russia, a legacy of cyclopean construction projects of the Soviet Era. It generated 15% of all electricity in Russia.


On August 17, 2009, one of the turbines failed when bolts holding its 920-ton cover in place snapped, and water flooded the engine room. In the ensuing chaos, seven other turbines were completely destroyed or damaged.

Some 300 employees of the plant rushed outside, as the water level was quickly rising. The flood claimed a total of 75 lives and left 13 injured.

The damage to the plant was estimated at $1.2 to $1.3 billion; repairs will take at least four years. However, three of the plant’s 10 turbines, which had been damaged the least in the disaster, have been put back into operation while another one is scheduled to be launched in December.

The winter period was difficult for Sayano-Shushenskaya plant, since the waters of the Yenisey had to bypass the shut-down turbines through the spillway – an unprecedented situation. Workers had to constantly break up forming ice, which could have damaged the dam. The problem will not come up again next winter, however, since the owners hastily completed an alternative route for the water, which had been in construction since 2005 and was meant as a sort of safety valve in case of spring floods.


Initial versions of the accident included a terror attack, but eventually technical failure was established as the true reason. Three independent investigations into the disaster have been launched, two of which have already produced their reports.

Report of the national civil engineering regulator Rostekhnadzor gave a detail account on how exactly events developed. Meanwhile the parliamentary commission was highly critical towards the owner of the hydro plant – RusHydro – and its direct management, who demonstrated “a low level of responsibility and professionalism and criminal neglect”. Parliamentarians also pointed out the lack of governmental control over the infrastructure.

Meanwhile, a criminal investigation is still underway, even though the Investigative Committee planned to be through with it by August. The report has been postponed until December after prosecutors requested additional research.


A year after the disaster commemoration ceremonies are being held in Khakassia. A new chapel has been consecrated on Tuesday at the cemetery, where most of the victims of the accident have been buried.

Yet another chapel has been built in the village of Cheryomushky near the power plant, where the majority of the staff lived. Both of these places are holding solemn liturgies in commemoration of the victims.

In the first hours after the accident, any people living downstream rushed to nearby hills or mountains, expecting the dam to collapse. Even now realtors say the market is low in the region.

Yet residents of Cheryomushky say they have overcome the initial fear and grief.

“It is somewhat insulting when visitors ask us whether we are afraid to live here. We don’t, because we know the dam was built for ages. The turbines failed, and that dam will stand as it stands now,” a villager told in an interview.

The accident resulted not only in loss of their loved ones, but also in an inflow of investment from both the plant owner and the authorities, as money was spent on rescue and repair. People say the revival – even though its roots lie in tragedy – is good for them, and gives them hope for a better future.