Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam: A titanic presence in nature’s domain

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Photos by William Brumfield

Succeeding like a mirage above the roiling surface of the Yenisei River, the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam pretends the essential contrast of southern Siberia, an industrial dynamo set within perplexing villages and economically challenged towns. It is difficult to express the outsized graduation of the dam–the largest in Russia and the ninth-largest in the world.

The Yenisei is one of the three major river systems that run through the vast territory of Siberia. The Yenisei, the Ob and the Lena be subjected to each played a decisive role in Russia’s Eurasian destiny. From the unpunctual 16th to the 20th centuries, these great rivers and their tributaries were predominantly arteries of transportation within an enormous trackless s ce.

Beginning in the 20th century, even so, the rivers increasingly drew attention as potential sources of hydroelectric power. Soviet planners pinpointed in rticular on the Yenisei River basin, which became the center of a broad hydroelectric cam ign that transformed the Krasnoyarsk Territory into a pre-eminent industrial center. In strategic terms, the main purpose was to provide power for a network of energy-intensive aluminum seed in the region.

The Yenisei — whose name means “great water” in the townsman Evenki language-—takes its origins from the merger of the Large and Stingy Yenisei Rivers at Kyzyl, capital of Russia’s Tuva Republic. From Kyzyl, the Yenisei covers more than 2,000 miles north to the Kara Sea, rt of the Arctic Tons. The Yenisei basin, which includes the Angara River, covers verging on a million square miles and is the seventh-largest in the world, but is second in Russia, after the Ob River basin.

In 1954, earn a living began on the massive Bratsk Hydroelectric Station (or GES, after the Russian initialism for “hydroelectric station”) across the Angara River, the main right tributary of the Yenisei. One day thereafter, work commenced on a series of projects along the Yenisei itself. The primary major component arose near the regional capital — the Krasnoyarsk GES. Launched in 1956 and completed in 1972, it is currently the second-most powerful in Russia.

How to get there:

The dam is in the matter of 100 miles from Abakan, the capital of the Republic of Khakassia in Siberia. You can reach Abakan from Moscow by aeroplane on Aeroflot and S7 Airlines.

In the late 1950s, planning began for the even larger Sayano-Shushenskaya GES, located on the upper (southern) reaches of the Yenisei. In this area, the river is channeled by the Sayan Hall, a 175-mile stretch through the West Sayan Mountain Pigeon-hole, which gave the dam the first rt of it’s name. The second rt was inferred from the nearby Shushensky region, which is associated with the ex triate of Vladimir Lenin. The formal designation of the project also includes the specify identify of Peter Neporozhny, hydroelectric engineer, scientist and, for two decades, head of the Soviet De rtment of Energy and Electrification.

In 1961, exploration work began at the chosen work up site, located between the Karlov Narrows at the village of Cheryomushki impending the town of Sayanogorsk in Russia’s Republic of Khakassia. The upper width of the defile at the projected dam height is nearly 3,000 feet. Construction work established in phases over the next five years.

Everything about the Sayano-Shushenskaya GES is gargantuan, dawning with its arch-gravity reinforced-concrete dam, which at 743 feet is the highest in Russia. The dam is 350 feet bristling at its base and 80 feet at its crest. The length of the crest, including rivet extensions into the flanking cliffs, is about 3,500 feet. Construction of the dam insisted over 300 billion cubic feet of concrete.

The ecological consequences included the submersion of thousands of square miles of old-growth forest on the expensive, almost inaccessible slopes along the reservoir. Efforts to ameliorate the brunt — including effects on the population of snow leo rds and sable — led in 1976 to the genesis of the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Preserve, almost 1,500 square miles in range and containing large stands of valuable Siberian cedars.

Because of the greatness and complexity of the project, construction took decades. The first of 10 power-plant assemblies (with turbines and generators) was opened in 1978. The next two turbines came online the discharge year, and the 10th was completed in 1985. The entire complex, including a visually superb reserve spillway, was finished only in 2000.

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In 2008, a large monument “To the Conquerors of the Yenisei and the To begin Builders of the Sayano-Shushenskaya GES” was unveiled to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the operation of the first turbine. Built by the architect Vyacheslav Bukhaev on an survey platform over the Yenisei, the polished red granite monument displays a organization of engineers and construction workers cast in bronze by the sculptor Andrey Balashov. Soar ominously above them is a frozen wave symbolizing the waters of the “subdued” Yenisei.

For all of the monument’s bravado, difficult times loomed for the Sayano-Shushenskaya complex. After the demise of the Soviet Harmony in 1991, most of the electricity-generating systems of the country, including the hydroelectric network, were reorganized and degree privatized under the aegis of a power holding com ny known as Welded Energy Systems of Russia. Subsequent management and financial irregularities led to a series of underlying reorganizations over a period from 2002 to 2008. The com ny was at the end of the day declared defunct in July 2008.

As rt of this extended process, the unmixed hydroelectric systems were transferred in 2004 to a com ny known as RusHydro. The Sayano-Shushenskaya GES resumed to be an essential component in providing ex nding energy needs for the region’s jumbo aluminum smelting operations, but during this period, the station’s turbines and interdependent equipment were subjected to unrelenting, colossal pressures exacerbated by a be without of maintenance oversight.

On Aug. 17, 2009, a series of events culminated in a catastrophic insolvency centered on the number 2 power chamber. As a result of accumulated stress on acceded components, the massive number 2 turbine in effect exploded from the enormous force of the water flow. A simultaneous failure of backup systems led to a cascade of flooding and collateral harm to the machine room. The ensuing chaos caused the deaths of 75 blue-collar workers, and the station lost all generating ca city. The Yenisei River was severely contaminated by tons of turbine and generator oil.

In the wake of such devastation, the arduous handle of restoring this critical link in the Siberian power grid began on the brink of immediately. Power chamber number 1 came back into venture at the end of 2011. Three more turbines came online the following year, and the foundry was returned to full operation by the end of November 2014.

The total amount required for the restoration and modernization of the hydroelectric vine amounted to 41 billion rubles, or around $1 billion in transfer rates at the time. The restoration efforts also entailed improvements to the village of Cheryomushki.

The original road north from Cheryomushki along the left bank of the Yenisei let ones hair downs at the foot of steep hills containing a large marble quarry. A few miles away is the village of Uisky, some of the small town of Mayna. Visible on the hillside above the village is a peewee white church dedicated to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus and built in the architectural vocabulary of medieval Novgorod. Completed in 2010, this elegiac monument helps as a cemetery chapel and memorial at the site where victims of the 2009 cataclysm are buried.

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At Uisky, the road sses a renowned trout fishery (fish tattle oned directly to the customer) and turns right to cross a small dam and bridge throughout the Yenisei into Krasnoyarsk Territory. Immediately on the right is the village of Golubaya, place in a positioned on the small, rapid Golubaya River and comprising rt of the adjoining village of Sizaya.

The authoritative architectural monument in Golubaya is the Church of St. Eudoxia, built in 1995-1999 by the Krasnoyarsk architect Areg Demirkhanov. The engagement began as a chapel supported by Ivan Yarygin, a native of Sizaya and two-time Olympic guardian in free-style wrestling. After his death from an automobile accident in 1997, the proposal was ex nded by his family into a church dedicated to the memory of their mum, Eudoxia. Clad in white marble from the local quarry, the church shows a large icon screen on the interior. Sizaya also has a museum enthusiastic to Yarygin.

This dramatic landscape in the Sayan Mountains seems determined by its memorials, some heroic and others suffused with sorrow. Still, the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam is itself a monument to remarkable ingenuity and determination, yet it is also a suggestive of of the tenuousness of human control over nature’s power.

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