Kyiv, UKRAINE. Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe condemns the destruction of Ukraine’s Kakhovka dam and the massive damage it is causing to human lives and the environment, and demands Russia immediately stop its invasion and leave Ukraine.
The most immediate impact of the extensive downstream flooding is on the people of southern Ukraine, who have already been subjected to 15 months of full-scale war. Due to the scale of the disaster, which Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrij Melnyk has called "the worst environmental disaster in Europe since Chornobyl", there will be inevitable impacts on the water supply for millions of people and agriculture during the coming summer months and beyond. Major environmental threats include toxic and other pollutants, severe damage to fragile ecosystems, national parks and the Black Sea Biosphere reserve. There is also a direct threat to the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
Since the demolition of the dam, water levels in the Kakhovka reservoir have fallen dramatically, which has the potential to impact the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
“Already when Russia seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in 2022, Greenpeace warned of the military threat posed by Russian military invasion about the risk of severe damage to the Kakhovka dam. Tragically this has become reality now - what next is Russia planning for the reactors at Zaporizhzhia? Although there is no immediate threat to the Zaporizhzia nuclear plant – it is now inevitable that the destruction of the dam will impact the safety of the plant in the coming period”, says Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace nuclear expert.
The cooling pond at the nuclear plant is dependent upon the Kakhovka reservoir for water supply. Ukraine’s nuclear power company Energoatom has reported that the destruction of the dam poses a threat to the plant, but the situation at the facility is currently under control. While the reactors have been in various stages of shutdown since March 2022, they and the spent nuclear fuel in the cooling ponds still require active cooling. The rate of water decline in the Kakhovka reservoir will determine the timeframe of the threat to the cooling functions at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
Mr Burnie added: “It is unclear what effective emergency measures can be taken to prevent this nuclear threat during the illegal Russian occupation of the plant and in the middle of a warzone,”says Burnie. “But what is clear is that the Russian military must immediately end their occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site and allow the necessary measures to be taken by the Ukraine staff without any interference.”
Denys Tsutsaiev, Greenpeace CEE campaigner in Kyiv, says: “I believe that the only reason for the catastrophe now under way in southern Ukraine is the Russian invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory. Its actions damage people’s lives and the environment.”
At least 600 tonnes of engine oil poured into the Dnipro River, and there is a risk of further leakage, according to the Ukrainian Environment Minister Ruslan Strilets on 7 June. While 80 settlements are in the flood zone, the water pouring from the reservoir is currently flooding the Lower Dnipro National Park. The spilled engine oil can harm plants and animals that get in contact with it, but proper evaluation can only take place after the water level is dropped and scientists can assess the area.
The Kakhovka dam is located in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine, and the territory has been occupied by Russia since February 2022. The dam holds water from Kakhovka Reservoir – which covers a total area of 2,155 square kilometres in the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Dnipropetrovsk Oblasts of Ukraine. It is 240 km long and up to 23 km wide. The total water volume is 18.2 km3. The depth varies from 3 to 26 metres and averages 8.4 metres. As of 4 June 2023, the water levels in the reservoir were at 17.32 metres.
The Kakhovka Reservoir also serves as a water source for the largest irrigation system in Ukraine and in Europe.. Water is transported through Kakhovka Canal (130 km) in four irrigation sub-systems located within Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions with a total length of 1609 km of canals in the system. Water from the canal is used for watering 326,000 ha in two above mentioned regions and has a maximum potential for watering 720 thousand ha.
As of 4 June 2023, the water levels in the reservoir were at 17.32 metres.
Timeline of nuclear risks during the 12 months of occupation of Zaporizhzia. The analysis is based on day-by-day monitoring carried out by Greenpeace nuclear specialists since February 2022, on the reporting of the Ukraine nuclear agency SNRIU and on over 150 updates on the situation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - link
Greenpeace CEE statement on Zaporizhzhia NPP - link
“The vulnerability of nuclear plants during military conflict: Lessons from Fukushima Daiichi Focus on Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine”, 2 March 2022 - link