The New Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, destroyed last night by an explosion blamed on each other by Moscow and Kiev, is of key importance for the area, in particular for the proper functioning of the Zaporiyia nuclear power plant and the supply of the Crimean peninsula, controlled by Russia since 2014.
Construction of the dam began in 1950 and it was commissioned six years later, during the Soviet era. Kakhovka is the latest in the cascade of hydroelectric power plants on the Dnieper River.
It is Ukraine' s fifth hydroelectric power plant with an output of 334.8 megawatts. The reservoir contained 18 million cubic meters of water before Tuesday's disaster. The dam wall is 16 meters high and 3,850 meters long.
The infrastructure, which will have to be erected from scratch, according to Russian authorities, is located in the southern Kherson region of Ukraine, 5 kilometers from the town of New Khakhovka, which Russia occupied in February 2022, just after the start of the military intervention in the neighboring country.
The Kakhovka Dam and Crimea
The hydroelectric power plant dam is of great importance not only for its energy and agricultural irrigation capabilities, but also because it connects the right and left banks of the Dnieper River, which has become the front line between the Russian and Ukrainian armies.
On the other hand, near New Kakhovka, which had about 45,000 inhabitants before the outbreak of the war, originates the North Crimean Canal, which brings water to the annexed peninsula from the Dnieper River, where the destroyed hydroelectric power station is located.
The canal, more than 400 kilometers long, originates at the Kakhovka reservoir and was built between 1961 and 1971 to provide water to the dry areas of the Kherson and Crimea region.
Ukraine blocked it in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, and in the first days of the offensive in the neighboring country, Moscow occupied the hydropower plant and access to key infrastructure for supplying the peninsula.
Water needed to cool Zaporiyia
Water from the Dnieper River and the Kakhovka reservoir is also vital for the operation of the nearby Zaporiyia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe and under constant danger from war attacks.
Water from the reservoir is needed for the plant in the neighboring Zaporiyia region to receive electricity for the turbine condensers and safety systems of the power plant, which is occupied by Russian troops.
The plant's cooling pond is filled with a water level of 16.6 meters, which is sufficient for the plant's needs, according to the Ukrainian nuclear agency, Energoatom.
Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who are at the Zaporiyia nuclear power plant assured Tuesday that "there is no immediate risk to nuclear safety at the plant."
Also Russia, which controls the atomic plant, affirmed that the risks to the Zaporiyia plant "are now minimal".
According to Renat Karchaa, an advisor to the Russian nuclear plant operator, Rosenergoatom, there was an "alarming period" recently, when the water level in the reservoir "was rising", but "measures were taken to minimize the risks".
Previous warnings about a similar attack
Last October, both Kiev and Moscow warned of plans by the other side to bomb or blow up the dam. Ukraine noted on that occasion that if the dam bursts, more than 80 localities would be in the flood zone.
Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky then also called for an international observation mission to be sent to Kakhovka.
The pro-Russian authorities in the Kherson region of Ukraine began at that time to release water from the dam to reduce the water level and thus minimize the potential disaster.
These actions, according to local officials, made it possible to avoid the worst-case scenario also today, when the hydropower plant received irreparable damage.