Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sayano-Shushenskaya: Telltale signs of an aging infrastructure in Russia

The damage at the Russian power plant at the massive Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric plant in southern Siberia may have large repercussions inside Russia but it has earned scarcely a note in the American press. It is Russia's largest power plant, providing 10 percent of Siberia's energy needs and a key energy supplier for Siberian metallurgy. When it was built, the Soviets trumpeted it as an achievement of the Communist system. Last Monday a mysterious explosion caused the power plant's turbine room to flood. No one seems to think it was sabotage; officials say that rising pressure in some pipes were the cause. In any case, the current count of the dead is 17 and 57 people are missing.

The event exposes an issue that the Russian administration has had a hard time facing: the old Soviet-built infrastructure is aging. From what I have heard, sometimes the original product suffered from pilfering and hasty, substandard work; I know of one attempt to expose substandard work on a pipeline project finished in the 1970s. In any case, whatever was built by the Soviets – and they took pride in the industrial development projects – is now at least 18 years old and much of it is decades older. This was the point of an article in Izvestia by Sergei Leskov. He says "Equipment and infrastructure are horrendously worn-out and neglected. An urge for modernization and support for high technology are no longer an issue of economic security — they are badly needed for the survival of Russian citizens."

[Click on the title for a link to the latest report.]

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