‘Russian-occupied’ Cahouka dam breaks…worst disaster since Chernobyl

The collapse of the Kahowka Dam in southern Ukraine has raised concerns about the safety of nearby residents, as well as massive damage to the environment and agriculture. Some experts have warned that it could be Ukraine’s biggest environmental disaster since the April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Ukrainian Environment Minister Ruslan Strelets said on June 6 (local time) that at least 150 tons of oil had spilled in the aftermath of the Kahowka dam collapse, adding that he feared the ecosystem of the surrounding area would be severely damaged, Reuters reported.

“The effects of the flooding will last for a very long time, not just weeks or months,” Strelets said, estimating that at least 50 million euros ($69.5 billion) will be needed to repair the environmental damage. He noted that the lower reaches of the Dnieper River are home to wildlife not found elsewhere, such as the sand mole, which is indigenous to Ukraine, and that damage to the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve is also a concern.

Photos of the Kahowka Dam in Kherson Oblast, Ukraine, taken by the Skysat satellite on April 4 (top photo) and 6. In the bottom photo, water can be seen pouring over the dam. Planet Labs courtesy of Yonhap News Agency

The Kahowka Dam, built in 1956 in the Nova Kahowka region of Kherson Oblast, collapsed on Friday night, sending a large amount of water downstream from the Kahowka Reservoir formed upstream of the dam. Experts expect the water level downstream of the dam to peak on July 7 and then gradually decline over the next three to four days, but warned that environmental damage could snowball if the water is not reduced.

Former Ukrainian Environment Minister Ostaf Semerakh told the U.K.’s The Guardian that the biggest concern right now is the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which receives cooling water from the dam, but that over time there will be widespread environmental disasters in the downstream region and the Black Sea.

The Cahouka Dam is located on the lower Dnieper River, with the Zaporizhia NPP upstream. Zaporizhzhia cools its reactors through a reservoir that holds back some of the Dnipro River’s water, and a collapse of the Kahowka Dam could cause the reservoir to dry up if water drains rapidly downstream. Rosenergoatom메이저사이트, the operator of the Zaporizhzhya NPP, says the reservoirs that provide cooling water are full and that “the plant is under control,” but there are concerns about the long-term effects.

Former Ukrainian Environment Minister Semerakh warned that pollutants such as oil and pesticides could contaminate the Black Sea if large amounts of water flow downstream in the coming weeks, flooding gas stations and farms. “The impact could reach Romania, Georgia, Turkkiye (Turkey) and Bulgaria,” he said. “I think it will be the worst disaster in Ukraine since the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.”

A car drives through a flooded road in the aftermath of the Cahowka dam collapse in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson on June 6. Kherson/EPA Yonhap

The destruction of the lower Dnieper’s war-torn ecosystem is expected to accelerate after more than a year and a half of fighting. Olena Krauchenko, executive director of the Ukrainian non-governmental organization Environment People Law, was particularly concerned about the mass mortality of fish and mollusks in the surrounding national parks and the destruction of wildlife habitat. “This is a huge disaster, but we don’t yet know how much of the dam has been destroyed and it’s too early to assess the impact,” said Denis Chuchaev, an activist with Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe.

Agricultural production in Ukraine, a major agricultural exporter, is also expected to take a hit. “The fact that the Kahowka reservoir is one of the largest in the world is particularly problematic,” said Dr. Mohammad Heydarzadeh from the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the University of Bath, UK. “Based on similar cases around the world, there will be a very large area where agricultural productivity will be affected by the spread of contaminants.”

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