A major dam and hydroelectric power plant in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine suffered a collapse early Tuesday, prompting mass evacuations and fears for large-scale devastation as Ukraine accused Moscow’s forces of committing an act of “ecocide.” Here’s what we know about the crisis.
It is unclear what caused the dam to collapse in the late evening of Monday or early hours of Tuesday. A CNN analysis of satellite imagery from Maxar shows the dam was damaged just days before suffering the structural collapse.
What are the consequences?
The critical Nova Kakhovka dam is the largest reservoir in Ukraine in terms of volume. The dam holds back around 18 cubic kilometers of water in the Kakhovka Reservoir, about equal to the Great Salt Lake in the US state of Utah. The damage appears to be vast and the potential devastating impact – both upstream and downstream – is worrying. Multiple towns and cities downstream from the dam are at risk of severe flooding, and the water level in the reservoir was falling “rapidly, about 15 centimeters per hour.” Ukraine’s President Zelensky has ordered evacuations of the 80 settlements in the flood zone, which include Kherson, a city that was home to some 300,000 people before Moscow’s invasion.
How could the collapse affect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant?
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is under Russian control, lies upstream from the destroyed dam. The reservoir supplies cooling water to the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station, and is crucial for its safety. The International Atomic Energy agency said there was “no immediate nuclear safety risk” at the plant, adding that the agency’s experts on site were “closely monitoring the situation.”
Has it been damaged before?
The area around the dam has been one of the most heavily contested since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The front line now runs alongside the river and through the reservoir, and the area has been under heavy fire for months. Both sides have accused each other of planning to breach the dam. At the time of the Kherson liberation, the dam did suffer some damage, although it was unclear what caused the damage.
The collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam is a devastating event with potentially far-reaching consequences. The situation is still unfolding, and it is unclear what caused the collapse, but both Ukrainian and Russian officials have blamed each other for the incident. The collapse has sparked mass evacuations, and the potential for severe flooding downstream is worrying. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, upstream from the destroyed dam, is also at risk, although the International Atomic Energy Agency has stated that there is no immediate nuclear safety risk. The situation is still developing, and it is unclear what the long-term effects of this event will be.