Experts: Nova Kakhovka Dam collapse caused by ‘deliberate implosion’
An intentional explosion inside the Nova Kakhovka Dam in southern Ukraine likely caused its collapse on Tuesday, according to engineering experts, who said a structural failure or launching the attack from outside the dam was “possible, but less plausible”.
Ukrainian officials blamed Russia for destroying the dam, noting that Moscow’s military forces had controlled the dam that spans the Dnipro River, 30 kilometers east of Kherson, since the beginning of the war, making it in a position to plant explosives inside it.
In turn, Russian officials blamed Ukraine for the explosion, but did not explain how that could have happened.
For months, each side in the war repeatedly accused the other of planning to sabotage the hydroelectric dam, without providing evidence.
Last week, both sides said an attack on the dam was imminent, and Ukrainian officials said the Russians wanted to impose a state of emergency at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which uses water from the Dnipro River for cooling, to stop an expected Ukrainian attack.
In light of the ongoing war, there is little prospect of an independent criminal investigation into the destruction of the dam.
According to the American New York Times, a number of prominent experts suggested that the dam explosion resulted from a “deliberate internal explosion,” saying that this explanation “is the most likely and logical.”
Experts said that the explosion occurring in a closed place would cause the greatest amount of damage to the structure surrounding it, while the external detonation by bombs or missiles would affect only a small part of the dam, and would require explosives several times larger than those required for internal detonation.
“External detonation will be limited by the amount of explosives the warhead can carry,” said Nick Glomack, a professor of engineering and explosives expert at the University of Illinois. Even a direct hit may not destroy the dam, this requires a large amount of energy.
For his part, Ihor Serota, head of the Ukrainian state hydroelectric company, Ukrhydroenergo, said in an interview: “A missile strike would not cause such destruction. Because the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station, of which the dam is a part, was built to withstand an atomic bomb. It is clear that the explosion occurred from the inside.
Over more than a year of intense fighting, the Nova Kakhovka Dam was repeatedly damaged, and each side accused the other of plotting to bomb it.
The Russians seized the dam last year when they advanced to the Dnipro River, but months later the Ukrainians pushed the Russian forces away from the western bank of the river, turning it and the dam into part of the border between the two warring parties, but the Russians have been holding on to the dam since then.
In August, a Ukrainian missile hit the road above the dam, and in November, as Russian forces retreated across the river, an explosion destroyed part of the road as well. Subsequently, photos verified by The New York Times showed damage to some of the dam’s gates that allow water to pass through, but there was no indication that damage to the underlying structure might have occurred.
Since last November, the gantry cranes, which open and close the dam’s gates, have barely moved, although it is not clear if they are not working. This first led to record low water levels, and then, as winter snows melted and spring rains poured into the reservoir upstream, resulted in a record high water level not seen in the river for 30 years.
From early May the water rose above the gates, peaking over the top of the dam.
However, it is not clear whether the type of damage to the dam, over the past year, was severe enough to cause it to eventually collapse.
“Dams may eventually fail with continued damage,” said Gregory P. Becher, a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. This is quite possible, but when I looked at the pictures of the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka Dam, I felt that it was very suspicious.
He added, “Some dams have collapsed due to the flow of unusually heavy water over them, but the resulting failure usually starts in the earthen part of the dam, on either bank. But the photos and videos show that the Nova Kakhovka Dam was breached from the middle, while its two ends seemed to be intact at first, although as the day went on, more parts of the dam collapsed.
Becher pointed out that the damage to a group of the dam’s gates and the rise in water may lead to the demolition of some of the gates, but it is not expected that they will cause the tearing of a large part of the dam.
On Sunday, Ukraine appeared to launch a long-expected counterattack against Russian forces, and its officials said Moscow blew up the dam, to impede their advance by causing floods and removing the only remaining river crossing between the two sides.
For his part, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that Ukraine destroyed the dam to cut off the flow of water to Crimea.