Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro Power Plant Disaster

Company Background

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Sayano — Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station is geographically located on the Yenisei River, near Sayanogorsk in Khakassia, Russia. It was the largest hydro electrical power plant in Russian and sixth largest hydro electrical power station in the world, until the accident has occurred. The plant was operated by RusHydro, which was established in December 2004 during Russia’s privatization movement, however about 60% of its shares are owned by Russian government. The milestone of RusHydro operation was that it has recorded the satiation’s all-time highest electricity output in 24 hours (RusHydro, July 2009). RusHydro has 55 hydro plants with the installed capacity of 25.4 GW. The annual energy generation recorded by Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station was about 23.4 TWh, which was almost one-quarter of that produced by RusHydro’s resources for the Unified Energy Systems of Russia and Siberia. The major consumer of the plant was United company Rusal’s aluminum smelters, that consumes about 70% production of RusHydro. The United Company Rusal’s aluminum smelter produces about 12% of the world’s aluminum (Boyko, A. & Popov, S. 2010)

Sayano — Shushenskaya hydroelectric power disaster and its causes

The 2009 Sayano — Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station accident occurred on 17 August 2009, when turbine 2 of the Sayano — Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station was viciously burst. The damages were, turbine hall and engine room were flooded, the ceiling of the turbine hall collapsed, 9 of 10 turbines were destroyed, and total of 75 people were killed in this accident. The operational consequences were, the entire plant output capacity, adding up to be 6,400 MW and a considerable share of the supply to the local market, was lost, leading to widespread power failure in the local area, and compelling all major users like aluminum smelters to change to diesel generators. An official report on the accident was issued on 4 October 2009.

The disaster was felt initially with the loud noise from turbine 2. The turbine cover shot up and the rotor that weighs around 920 tones also shot out of its seat. This has made water to rush out from the cavity of the turbine into the machinery hall. Consequently the machinery hall was flooded. The disturbance in the plant has alerted the alarm received at the power station’s main control panel. The failure of power had made total blackout in the premises (Izvestia, 2009). The rescue majors taken during the incident was that the steel gates to water intake pipes of turbines were manually closed, emergency diesel generator was started and the opening of spillway gates of the dam (RusHydro (August 2009). It was found that 75 people had died during this incident. (ITAR-TASS, September 2009)

Cause of accident

The accident was fundamentally caused by the turbine vibrations that had led to the serious damage of the turbine 2 and its cover. The precise cause of this vibration was investigated as most likely to be due to the huge volume of water from the Yenisei River flooded the turbine room thus causing one of the transformer explosion and widespread damage to all ten turbines. It was observed during the investigation that min 6 nuts were missing from the bolts securing the turbine cover. However, industry has viewed the cause of this accident as an inaccurate start-up process of the turbine that has consequently caused the hydraulic pressure surge. The vibration in turbine 2 was experienced since 10 years and was well-known by the company. It is also commented by industry specialist that its common practice in the industry to increase profit by reducing maintenance cost, investment on safety measures and training cost. To hide their mismanagement and ignored response on the maintenance of the plant, vibration in the turbine 2 was ignored by the company personnel and they have underestimated the adverse effects of its damage (Expert online, 2009).

According to Alexander Toloshinov, the former director general of the plant, the accident was due to the manufacturing defect in the turbine. According to him the construction of the turbine blades for such type of turbine is not reliable and possesses the risk of breaking down during operation. RusHydro has disapproved all the accusation that the dam outflow had overwhelmed the machinery hall thus leading to the damage of turbine 2. The management had tried to convince by saying that the dam outflow is seasonal and the displacement between the anchor legs and machinery hall has never exceeded 2.3 mm which is quite less than the width between them. Therefore it was not possible for damn to overwhelm the machinery hall. News has also reported the rebel party in Chechnya to be responsible for the blast as a confrontation on economic war on Russia. However they were refused by the authorities and were termed as nonsense and idiotic claims on rebel groups (Akin, Melissa August 2009). To directly claim who was responsible for the accident was pretty much controversial and complex. Investigation on the accident has shown the construction defects and manufacturing defaults in the huge power plant was the sole reason for this accident and the rescue measures adopted by the plant was not as immediate as it should have been.

After the accident 49 bolts were found from which 41 were damaged. It was found during investigation that the fire was caught at the hydroelectric power station of Bratsk. This fire has caused damage to the communication system and the automatic driving system of the power station. Rakurs, the company that had designed the automatic safety system of the plant had tried to safe its position by clarifying that the failure of the turbine 2 had let automatic shutdown system of the water intake pipes’ gates (Titova, Irina August 2009).

Hydro Plant Re-Operational Strategy

The operational and environmental damages caused by the accident were reported to be:

a) Flooding of Turbine 6

b) Electrical damage and flooding of Turbine 5

c) Electrical and mechanical damage on the middle level in turbine 3 and 4

d) Turbine 2, 7, 9 were complete destroyed with enormous damage to the structures around it.

e) The damage of the power plant has resulted in the complete blackout of the premises as well as the surrounding areas that also include residential areas in the nearest localities.

f) The adverse impact of the accident can be seen by the oil spill on the river damaging the wildlife whose damage has not yet measured and destroyed the cultivated trout in the nearby riverside.

Restructuring and rebuilding of the Russian’s largest power plant may take the time over than expected by the engineering and rebuilding teams working on the project. The equipment supplier to Russia, JSC Power Machines was assigned the task of supplying the company with the ten new turbines, nine generators and six new excitation system with the total cost of 11.7 billion rubles that sum up to be USD 392 million. These measures were taken to get the power plant in operation again with its fullest capacity and premium performance. According to Igor Kustin, the general director of power machines, the manufacturing process will further investigate the matter and will look into the real cause of the disaster which can be mitigated in the future developments (Ray, R.W March 2010).

The operational plan of the plant was that it initially aimed at restoring four units in 2010. The re-operational process would involve 2,508 workers and 91 pieces of equipment. During the manufacturing of the units following strategic decision were taken for proper functioning and risk minimization of the power plant:

a) The operational building of unit 5 and 6 will require 1,280 MW capacities and it assures minimum flooding risk thus providing regular stream of water supply to the residents and industrial operations with the needed electricity in the concerned areas.

b) With the setting up of the unit 6, 3 and 4 in operation the total planned capacity of the power plant in 2010 will be recorded to be 2,560 MW.

c) The structural repair which was under process was the repair of machinery hall, heating system, and electricity supply and sewage tunnels.

d) The spill way work is in continuous operation, therefore special consideration was given to establish the methods for preventing the dam from icing. (International Water Power and Dam Construction, September 2009)

The working Schedule of the operational process of the power plant can be tabularize in the following table 1 below:

Table1: Operational Schedule of the Sayano — Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station

Operational Activity

Planned Schedule

Power plant was trying to resolve the problem of dam icing. All 11 spillway gates were open and 70 heat guns with the approx output of 1,500 kW were installed to prevent hall form icing.

26 November 2009

Prepared dismantling of turbines 1,2,3,4,7,8,9 and 10. By this time only turbine 5 and 6 were repaired in their working place. The power plant has the plans to replace rest of the turbines with the modernized versions.

27 December 2009

Turbine 6 was successfully restarted.

24th February 2010

Turbine 5 was made under installation

22 March 2010

Turbine 4 successfully unloaded

4th August 2010

Turbine 2 construction was finished

All the turbines in operation


The cost estimated during the re-construction of the power plant was great and it was estimated that 10 billion rubles will be used in the restoration project in the year 2010 followed by 3.5 billion rubles for construction of the first phase of a shore spillway. The reconstruction of the building room will cost the power plant about 40 billion rubles. The total cost of 10 turbines alone that will take about 4 years for its construction and put into operation was estimated to be 37 billion rubles. The company has tried to get their reconstruction project financed by Russia’s Sberbank with the facility of amount 20 billion rubles and had also negotiated a loan from European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The operational efficiency and life of the plant was assessed as each unit was estimated to have the life of 40 years and operational efficiency of 96.6% thus bearing the risk of default only 3.4%. However, the engineering team has felt the construction of the power plant will be faced with the challenge of logistics management and timing that can prolong the operational setup of the plant beyond four years. The team is equipped with specialized and experienced engineers who will make the process in the shortest possible time and contingency plans were also set up but building additional spillway to control the spring floods and add reliability and safety.

Future Measures for Prevention and Risk mitigation

Hydroelectric plants are considered to be the safest mode of generating electricity. The technology have been adopted since centuries, its environmentally friendly as compared to other industrial production methods since minimum toxicities is being caused and less chemicals are involved in the process. The hydroelectric dam functions direct with water under high pressure to turbines. This led to the constructional design on the plant which requires lot of pipes, valves and regulatory mechanisms bearing great amount of water flowing with high speed and pressure. The water movement has inertia, when the water confined in a place is unable to find itself a room to flow it will make a pounding noise. The power plants have detectors for monitoring such noise and regulating the water level so that the turbine doesn’t burst or results in any mechanical disturbance.

After analyzing the accident and operational design of the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant, it was observed that the plant didn’t have correct form of regulatory and detecting mechanism to monitor and control the level of water flowing in the turbine from the dams or at the eleventh hour the detector and security mechanism installed din the plant ceased functioning. This has let the power plant learn a lesson to have security system and alarming mechanism as much of sound operation as the plant itself. The future lesson and operational approach for the power plant was to install the security system that can minimize the risk of non-communication to the maximum level leaving the company with critical factor of either 3.4% or even below that.

Before the installation of the power plant units the RusHydro has decided to test the Siberian Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydropower Plant spillway in September. The Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydropower Plant after the incident as the futuristic operational measurement has tried to make the spillway in additional facility with the capacity of 4,000 cubic meters per hour. This facility will be focused on providing security in time of spring floods. This step was taken by the company as their contingency measure and a lesson learned from the accident to resolve and prepare for every possible event of the future.

The hydroelectric plants generally didn’t require lager number of workers as these industries is not labor intensive rather they are capital and technology intensive. Even small hydro-plants can function well on daily basis four years with fully automated system. Power plant like Sayano-Shushenskaya was labor intensive to that extend that the accident has caused 75 of its personnel die. The huge number of workers in the plant was possible due to the primitive Soviet Union policy on labor relations to promote employment in the country and concentrating their economic well-being on giving balancing attention to the profitability of the company, safety and security measure of the personnel itself. This has let the hydropower industry to realize the fact that these plants are risky places to work and their security measures to be adopted by the company should be of high standards. This will eventually result in either worker group to divert their attention from such type of employment and move towards safer option or let them work on the condition of high wages and high security prevention measures adopted by the management of the plant. On the other hand the strategic decision from the company perspective can be either to make the plant as much automated as possible and divert their investment on human capital from asset capital and make the security system to its optimum level that even machines didn’t suffer massive looses.

The accident of the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro power plant was the combination of design flow, operation carelessness, lack of security measures and combination of all these parameters. It has made the industry learn that in the hydro power business it is very important for firms to have their system structured in the most professional level with all their parts operative throughout the operation. This requires continuous checkups and inspection from the engineering department and installation of electrical devices that can detect the dysfunctional component and alert the engineering team about it. Besides being environmental friendly, mitigation of risk in the business operation is important aspect of the company corporate social responsibility and policy of internal operations. The riskiness of the business operation can cause company to suffer financial loss due to decline in the profitability, reduction in the share prices and cost of re-building the plant (Naymushin, I August 2009). Besides these risks company also held responsible socially and ethically on the loss of human lives and the environmental damages incurred. Therefore, for maintaining sound operation and efficient functioning of the hydro power plant it is necessary for all the companies to have equipment of best quality installed, contingency plans made, operational activities to be monitored on regular basis, expert team of professionals to be hired and make the process as much automated as possible in operation and disaster management.


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