Media Review

11 december, 2009 17:23

Novaya Gazeta: “As if Sayano-Shushenskaya plant’s disaster was not enough …”

Russia is currently carrying out a very ambitious investment project. Prisoners are burning forests and villages in order to build power plants similar to the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant.

Russia is currently carrying out a very ambitious investment project. Prisoners are burning forests and villages in order to build power plants similar to the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant.

On December 9, a State Duma commission said an investigation of the August 17, 2009 accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant was complete and that the report was currently undergoing an "expert linguistic evaluation." As those responsible are being identified, preparations are underway to commission another hydropower plant. The Boguchanskaya hydropower plant is nearing completion on the Angara River. Prisoners are felling and burning trees and removing all life forms from the bottom of the future Boguchansk Sea, another reservoir that will be filled with dead water. Smoke billowing over the Angara River is the result of a public-private partnership repeatedly mentioned during President Vladimir Putin's tenure in office. Putin who was briefed on the Boguchanskaya hydropower plant by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, and Krasnoyarsk Territory Governor Alexander Khloponin approved the project. The area will be flooded beginning on October 1, 2010, and the first turbine is scheduled to be commissioned on December 7, 2010. Most importantly, there are plans to build an entire cascade of hydropower plants on the Angara and Yenisei Rivers.

During the thirty years following World War II, the Soviet Union built three hydropower plants on the Angara River. Construction of the fourth plant, Boguchanskaya, began 30 years ago but was never completed. Consequently, the local senior citizen community, including descendants of those Russians who came to the region for centuries in search of freedom and tranquility, was relieved that it was never finished. And now prisoners and migrant workers are creating an economic enclave to replace the anclave of old-timers.

It is impossible to profit from convict labour. It appears that the current owners of the Boguchansk hydropower plant, RusHydro, the world's second-largest hydroelectric power producer, and United Company RUSAL, the world's largest aluminium producer, have distanced themselves from the project. The state is currently involving prisoners in large projects and has assumed responsibility for whatever losses occur in the project. Public-private partnership implies that the profits will be shared. The business community gets kilowatts, while the state has to put up with a rotting water reservoir. Moreover, the state finances construction of the relevant infrastructure, including power transmission lines, roads and bridges, and it assumes responsibility for such infrastructure. The state has also worked to facilitate flooding preparations, relocating residents and felling trees.

This programme is called the Comprehensive Development of the Lower Reaches of the Angara River. According to the government, comprehensive development calls for completing the construction of a hydropower plant, which is not necessary to anyone here, and finding prospective consumers. This is why it has been decided to build another aluminium plant, one more pulp and paper mill, as well as sawmills, and to link all these facilities by roads. Comprehensive development implies the destruction of age-old local traditions and the construction of yet another dead-end town which will be just as miserable as all those single-enterprise towns from the communist era that sprouted up near other hydropower plants on the banks of the Angara River.

The Angara River will also soon disappear and will be replaced by the Angara hydropower-plant cascade. Hundreds of archaeological monuments, including cliff paintings and the Ust-Kova Paleolithic settlement known to scientists all over the world, will all be flooded. The old villages in the area have already become almost completely depopulated. The remaining residents are waiting for their turn to come. The villages will be cleared of inhabitants, burned to the ground and subsequently flooded.

N. Fisenko, N. Yefanova and 1,821 more residents of towns and villages located in the dangerous zone below the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant have written a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, asking them to pump all the water from the Sayano-Shushensky reservoir and to shut down the hydropower plant. The letter also requests that they spend the billions of roubles, due to be used to restore the power plant and to build a bypass canal, on the introduction of alternative sources of energy.

Experts in the hydropower industry remain optimistic. Despite the recent disaster in the Republic of Khakassia and the financial crisis, RusHydro has no intention of renouncing these grandiose plans to develop Russia and its rivers. Such plans were made public at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant even before it was damaged. Anatoly Kvashnin, the presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District, confirmed that the radical development of the East Siberian hydro-potential would receive state support. The Lower Yenisei hydropower-generating complex comprises four power plants: the Evenkiyskaya, Turukhanskaya, Nizhnekureiskaya and Podkamenno-Tungusskaya hydropower plants. The Turukhanskaya plant counterbalances the Evenkiyskaya plant. All these stations are located on the tributaries of the Yenisei River. However, it is impossible to build dams in the lower reaches of the Yenisei River, so the conquerors of nature plan to have their revenge in the upper reaches of the great river. The Upper Yenisei hydropower generating complex includes hydropower plants in the Tuva Republic. The Angara hydropower generating complex will include the Motygino and Nizhneboguchansk hydropower plants. They have stopped discussing the latter, but this does not mean anything. Additionally, the Trans-Baikal hydropower generating complex includes five power plants.

RusHydro started revising specific deadlines after the disaster that occurred at the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant and after receiving instruction from Putin to expedite construction of the Boguchanskaya hydropower plant. The government was told that construction would be expedited and that three turbines would be commissioned in 2010. Four more turbines will be commissioned in 2011and two turbines will be commissioned in 2012. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin is expected to visit the hydropower plant in December. The concerned parties will discuss allocations for commissioning all power units by 2012.

They are in a hurry. Barges have already delivered three huge turbine impeller wheels and seven transformers to the dam. The assessment of the environmental impact of the project is an entirely different story. Under a request for a proposal, preliminary findings in this area were supposed to have been submitted for a public discussion two years ago, by December 28, 2007. Officials at different levels promised to do this. Although the assessment was made, they decided not to publish its results. People in Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk are being told that an environmental impact assessment and public hearings are not essential conditions for the continued construction of the Boguchansk hydropower plant. The message is clear: Nobody is asking the people, and the developers will accomplish it on their own.

The political powers and the business interests connected with them are citing expert evaluations and decisions that were been made in the 20th century, decisions in other countries under other political systems and different legislation. RusHydro claims that repeated expert examinations of the project and the submitting of environmental impact assessment documents are not required. It would be possible to use this loophole if the design were not changed. However, the technical design of the Boguchanskaya hydropower plant that was approved in 1979 has to be modified. This is now taking place. At the same time, the government and the business community find it unprofitable to consider the federal law On Environmental Expert Evaluations and the current system of compensation. The state and the business community are obviously violating citizens' constitutional rights to obtain information on the state of the environment under Article 42 of the Russian Constitution.

On November 9, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) sent letters to Sberbank and Vnesheconombank because RusHydro plans to take out loans for completing the Boguchanskaya hydropower plant from both banks. If the project is implemented without due assessment of its environmental impact, then it would run counter to Russian legislation and international investment standards. That's why, the WWF is asking the bankers not to finance construction of the Boguchansk hydropower plant. Representatives of non-governmental organisations in Siberia and Russia's Far East (the Sosnovskaya NGO coalition) have addressed the prosecutor general, drawing his attention to situations similar to the construction and commissioning of the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant. The relevant document investigating technical aspects of the causes of the August 2009 accident states expressly that various changes to the general construction plan during the hydropower plant's active building stage had brought about the formation of cracks in the dam, the erosion of the rock foundation, the disintegration of the water cushion and the accidents that happened in 1979, 1985 and 1988. These problems were also facilitated by construction delays. It took 27 years, instead of nine years as was initially planned, to build the hydropower plant. Construction of the Boguchansk hydropower plant has been going on for about 30 years, including breaks in construction. They are also trying to amend the design during construction work. Legal proceedings are being violated. RusHydro and Rusal took advantage of the silence of watchdog agencies and dismembered the integral technical design of the Boguchansk hydropower plant, trying to do without expert evaluation and public control.

Environmentalists are asking Prosecutor General Yury Chaika to check the legality of issuing authorisation documents for preparatory and construction work and to demand the organisation of public hearings on all decisions being drafted in the context of the Boguchanskaya hydropower plant's modified technical design.

Although Chaika has not yet replied, the Krasnoyarsk-based Plotina (Dam) environmental organisation has sent a similar letter to the regional prosecutor, Yury Baranov. It turns out that the regional prosecutor's office sees nothing blameworthy in what is happening. Irina Vavilova, acting chief at the regional prosecutor's office, said an environmental impact assessment was currently being worked out and financed by RusHydro. Moreover, Vavilova told environmentalists that territorial legislation stipulated budgetary allocations for modifying the Water Reservoir and Environmental Protection project, part of the dismembered Boguchansk hydropower plant project. The modification still continues and that's why no environmental expert evaluation of the project has been conducted.

There is a plan to build the Motyginskaya hydropower plant downstream and below the Boguchanskaya plant. The Motyginskaya hydropower plant's environmental impact assessment is being written without any consideration of the plant's influence on the lower reaches of the Angara River basin. It would make sense to commission the Boguchanskaya plant and then to assess its operation. But this option does not suit hydropower plant builders. This can be explained by the difficulty of overcoming resistance from local residents protesting against the construction of yet another hydropower plant after the consequences had become obvious. The situation will be particularly bad in the first few years when the Boguchansk reservoir's level becomes stabilised. The Angara River will turn into a sewage duct filled with muck and slime. However, the indignation of Motygino residents will mean nothing after RusHydro obtains all the documents allowing it to go ahead with the Motyginskaya power plant project.

On November 16, the Plotina environmental organisation conducted a round table discussion that examined the environmental aspects of the design for the Boguchanskaya and Motyginskaya hydropower plants. Representatives of power-plant construction companies did not show up. They are obviously ready to negotiate only if they are legally required to do so. But they failed to avoid conducting public hearings on the Motyginskaya hydropower plant's environmental impact assessment because no loopholes were found.

The developers recently met with local residents. Plotina leader Alexei Kolpakov who is from Motygino and fellow residents of the town unsuccessfully presented a number of arguments. Payments for environmental pollution are calculated without any consideration of the Boguchanskaya plant's contribution. The incomplete assessment of environmental damage makes it possible to doubt the correctness of the conclusions made in terms of the project's cost-effectiveness and the possibility of implementing it without irreversible degradation of the ecosystem. The engineering solution does not include a plan to completely compensate for environmental damage.

The Angara River's bed, due to be widened during construction of the Boguchanskaya and Motyginskaya plants, will not facilitate the improvement of water quality. The Motygino reservoir will suck in all the dirt. The materials submitted virtually overlook the cumulative effect that will be made on the environment.

A petition with the signatures of 523 Motygino residents refusing to accept the Motyginskaya plant project was recently handed over to Mark Denisov, the Krasnoyarsk Territory's Human Rights Ombudsman, Governor Khloponin, Speaker of the Territorial Legislative Assembly Alexander Uss and Yevgeny Vaganov, Rector of the Siberian Federal University.

Article 16 of the federal law On the Environment states expressly that environmental damages must be paid for. It is not hard to prove that damage to the environment is being understated or even completely disregarded. Plotina has already accomplished this objective. For instance, the Motyginskaya plant's environmental impact assessment stipulates no methods for calculating the extent of environmental impact. "A closer examination shows that that the above-mentioned negative consequences are only on a small scale for the Motyginskaya hydropower plant's design under review." How do you like the wording "small scale?"

The Motyginskaya plant's design does not specify the construction of channels facilitating fish migration. The plant's turbines will grind up all living creatures in the Angara River, adding rotting organic matter to industrial effluents. The power plant will also affect the habitats of birds listed in the Red Data Book. The two federal laws, On Environmental Protection and On the Animal World, do not permit any actions that may disrupt the habitats of animals listed in the Red Data Book. The Motyginskaya plant's preliminary environmental impact assessment does not analyse the plant's impact on state-protected islands and contains only general provisions. The Motygino Muti Island Region Nature Reserve begins 20 km from the planned dam. Incidentally, the reserve was established for preserving vanishing animal and bird species in 2003 when Khloponin was governor, and this was a step that had made one hopeful.