Deputy Foreign Minister Andrij Melnyk has stated that the Nova Kakhovka dam breach in Ukraine has the potential to become the country’s “most severe ecological catastrophe since the Chornobyl nuclear disaster.” Experts are anxiously awaiting the water levels to decrease so they can evaluate the environmental consequences.
The catastrophe took place early Tuesday when explosions ripped through the colossal hydroelectric dam in southern Ukraine — draining one of the continent’s largest artificial reservoirs.
The deluge forced the evacuation of thousands of people downstream, polluted land, destroyed a large electricity generator and is expected to cause future problems with water supplies.
Concerns are also being raised at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which 160 kilometres (100 miles) upstream.
The International Energy Agency tweeted that there was “no immediate nuclear safety risk at plant”, because the cooling pools are already full, but the situation could turn worse if the reservoir is depleted, adding that it would make it difficult to replenish the cooling system and operate the diesel generators.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday convened an emergency meeting of his security council after the collapse. The country’s public prosecutor said it is investigating a possible case of “ecocide”.
It is still unclear what caused the dam to break down even as Ukraine and Russia blame each other for deliberately blasting the main concrete barrier.
Several media highlight satellite data showing that a road across the dam was already partly inundated in recent days and that water levels were at a record high.
However, the immediate impact could be felt on the ground where people living downstream are running for safety. The western shore of the Dnipro is under Ukrainian control, while the east and the dam itself are still held by Russia.
The Ukrainian head of the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin, said as many as 16,000 people in Ukrainian-controlled territory are in danger and many would have to leave their homes, reports Politico.
Footage posted on social media shows severe flooding in the Russian-controlled town of Nova Kakhovka, next to the dam.
In one clip, swans swim past the ornate city council building, while in another a sports stadium next to the river is inundated.
The dam is the main source of water supply to Ukraine’s agriculture fields, the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula and is also used for cooling the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
Its destruction has created a new humanitarian crisis just as Ukraine is starting to unleash a long-awaited counteroffensive to drive Russian troops from its territory.