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Earth Power

Fatal Explosion At Russian Hydroelectric Dam 336

Posted by kdawson
from the price-of-green dept.
stadium writes "An oil-filled transformer exploded at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant in Siberia, destroying three turbines and bringing down the ceiling of the turbine hall, which then violently flooded. The dam itself did not sustain any damage. It is unclear how many people were killed, but with 12 confirmed deaths and as many as 64 still missing (all presumed dead), this is a serious incident. The huge transformer had enough oil in it to produce a three-mile-long oil spill slowly moving downriver. BBC News reports with three separate videos. The dam produces a quarter of the total energy of RusHydro (whose stock thus took a steep dive at London Stock Exchange) and also feeds the world's largest aluminum smelter. The damages will take years to repair."
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Fatal Explosion At Russian Hydroelectric Dam

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  • Reason (Score:5, Funny)

    by Daimanta (1140543) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:37PM (#29112417) Journal

    The transformer was a Decepticon.

    • Re:Reason (Score:5, Funny)

      by JeanBaptiste (537955) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:39PM (#29112447)

      I doubt the explanation is so simple.... there's probably more than meets the eye.

    • Re:Reason (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @08:24PM (#29113287)

      It now looks like the transformer failure was secondary. The sources are implicating a "hydraulic impact" This typically happens when a hydro unit is generating at full capacity, and the control valves, called wicket gates, close too fast. When that happens, the very large amount of water, with considerable inertia, that was headed for the turbine via pipes called penstocks now has nowhere to go. The lower portion of the penstocks, and the turbine case are then subjected to a very large over pressure and can fail catastrophically. The speed at which the wickett gates can close is typically set in the turbine governor and then checked and verified at least once. Unfortunately, this looks a lot like poor procedures, but one can never know for sure until the investigation is completed.

  • by ChefInnocent (667809) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:38PM (#29112425)
    <sarcasm>So now we need stop hydroelectric power until it can be proven safe. We have no idea how much water has been released to contaminate the environment! If we continue to build and operate hydroelectric plants, the world will be doomed. How many more lives need be lost in our unquenchable thirst for power? Hydroelectric power is unsafe and this proves it!</sarcasm>
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:42PM (#29112485)

      Glenn Beck says Hydro Dams are death panels and will kill grandma.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Hurricane78 (562437)

        And so the circle closes: My grandma has a deadly pan with a handle and would like to kill Glenn Beck.

    • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:54PM (#29112569)
      You think this is funny, but check out the controversy surrounding the Glen Canyon Dam... because having a desert canyon instead of a lake is "environmentally consciencious."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SoupGuru (723634)

        Is there something inherently wrong with a desert canyon?

        I've heard the canyon was spectacularly beautiful before it was flooded.

        Hayduke lives!

        • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:15PM (#29112759)

          Is there something inherently wrong with a desert canyon?

          Not neccessarily, but they are spectacularly bad at providing electricity, water, and biodiversity compared to a reservoir. Draining it will not fix the canyon, it will be the equivalent of spitting out, then stomping a chewed piece of gum, as far as restoring the original to its former glory and structure. Yet there you go...

          • by chmodman (565242) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:44PM (#29113023)
            Go read Cadillac Desert. Damns do more harm to the environment that you might expect.

            - Dams stop natural sediment flow, resulting in downstream river erosion

            - Fish breeding / migration

            - Increased irrigation enabled by dams causes pollution of ground water aquifers (increased salinity etc)

            - Methane released decaying plant matter in non-oxygenated stagnant dam water

            • by Trahloc (842734)

              Go read Cadillac Desert. Damns do more harm to the environment that you might expect.

              - Dams stop natural sediment flow, resulting in downstream river erosion

              There are solutions to that these days, the cost of mucking out reservoirs that get filled with sediment is the main incentive though not the environment. Tree huggers shouldn't complain on why a "green" change is done, they should simply be happy its being done.

              - Fish breeding / migration

              Ditto, sports fishermen are probably the incentive here.

              - Increased irrigation enabled by dams causes pollution of ground water aquifers (increased salinity etc)

              No clue, Bob is prob working on it though :-)

              - Methane released decaying plant matter in non-oxygenated stagnant dam water

              Hey, no cheating you already covered the natural sediment/nutrient flow in the first complaint. While its true that Dam's aren't exactly perfect th

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by FrankSchwab (675585)

          It was spectacularly beautiful before it was flooded; much like the Grand Canyon.

          It is still spectacularly beautiful, I go boating for a week on it every year. Something I can't do at the Grand Canyon. /frank

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by darkpixel2k (623900)

          Is there something inherently wrong with a desert canyon?

          I've heard the canyon was spectacularly beautiful before it was flooded.

          Hayduke lives!

          I hear the glaciers were beautiful before they melted.

      • by Rei (128717) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:14PM (#29112755) Homepage

        You think that dramatically increasing the surface area (and thus evaporation rate) of a major river that barely sustains millions in a water-parched region and no longer reaches the ocean through most of the year is environmentally benign?

        I'm not opposed to all hydro, but Glen Canyon was a mistake. The value of the water being lost there may soon equal the value of the power the dam is generating these days if things keep on going the way they're going.

        • by Sj0 (472011)

          Bitches don't know about my water table

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Carnildo (712617)

          Glen Canyon was built to extend the life of Hoover Dam by reducing sediment buildup in Lake Mead. Any electricity or irrigation made possible by it is entirely a side effect.

        • by nadaou (535365) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:02PM (#29113971) Homepage

          You think that dramatically increasing the surface area (and thus evaporation rate) of a major river that barely sustains millions in a water-parched region and no longer reaches the ocean through most of the year is environmentally benign?

          I'm not opposed to all hydro, but Glen Canyon was a mistake. The value of the water being lost there may soon equal the value of the power the dam is generating these days if things keep on going the way they're going.

          For what it's worth, a rambling river can easily have more surface area exposed for vaporization than the still surface of a lake of the same volume.

          You must balance the damage the dam does versus what damage a probable alternative would do (false dichotomies not withstanding). Sure, dams do a lot of damage, but the alternatives are usually much much worse.

          (as it happens I've got a book by Ed Abbey sitting right next to me as I type this..)

    • by ross.w (87751) <rwonderley@noSPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:10PM (#29112721) Journal

      Apparently this installation contained enormous quantities of DHMO as a coolant and working medium. We need to protest their excessive reliance on DHMO [dhmo.org]. This disaster is just one more proof that DHMO is a dangerous material that needs more regulation.

  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:41PM (#29112471)

    In soviet russia, hydroelectric damns YOU.

  • Hrmmm.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    To me this 'exploding transformer' seems strange. I mean, the transformers we use where I work are filled with non-explosive mineral oil. Something seriously bad must have happened to this transformer. I mean, so bad I can't even imagine. Looking at the amount of destruction I just don't understand how it's possible. Any electrical engineers out there who can offer some insight?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MartinSchou (1360093)

      Water is also rather non-explosive, but if you manage to contain a high temperature and pressure and then release it, it will behave in a rather explosive way.

      The Mythbusters did an episode with a water heater, and they managed to give a midsized water heater something like 40 seconds of airtime.

    • Re:Hrmmm.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:43PM (#29112997)

      Some types of transformer oil, break down to flammable gases when there is an internal fault. These faults result from such things as vibration wearing the insulation, or heat damage to the insulation. When the phase arcs to ground or phase to phase the usual by-products are hydrogen and acetylene. When the right concentrations are reached they explode. Most large transformers in the US have pressure sensors that try to de-energize the transformer when the gasses begin to build. This isn't always successful, and sometimes they explode. A large generator, such as a large hydro unit, next to the fault can cause the gasses to be generated very rapidly. This must be the case, as this is a standard precaution used for many years.

    • Re:Hrmmm.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by sjames (1099) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:45PM (#29113029) Homepage

      The explosion is from arc flash when the coils in the transformer short. The metal explosively transitions from solid to a mixture of plasma, gas, and liquid. The surrounding oil is then atomized by the explosion and so creates a huge fireball. Depending on just how unlucky you are, you can also end up with a metal fire after that (which a standard ABC extinguisher will NOT put out).

    • Re:Hrmmm.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sj0 (472011) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:55PM (#29113091) Homepage Journal

      You need to understand, electricity is heavy shit. If you're talking about a large transformer at high voltage, it can explode catastrophically.

      Arc blast at low voltage [youtube.com]

      The mill I work at has had several such explosions over the past decade. In our case, it was probably related to the ridiculous amounts of particulate pollution in the open area where our transformers sit causing heat build-up which caused a breakdown of insulation causing an arc flash causing an explosion(Measures have been taken to prevent future failures). Thankfully, the original plant engineers understood that explosions ARE a possible failure mode of transformers, and placed them in areas where it would be unlikely for collateral damage to occur. The Russian dipshit who put the transformer in a place where it could destroy a water bearing wall and kill 12 people is probably feeling pretty bad about himself right now.

      • by gillbates (106458) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @01:47AM (#29115391) Homepage Journal

        The Russian dipshit who put the transformer in a place where it could destroy a water bearing wall and kill 12 people is probably feeling pretty bad about himself right now.

        Perhaps you have more information than I, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the structural failure of the water bearing wall was created by a massive turbine ripping itself apart. If you watch the video, you hear the explosion some time after the water starts spraying everywhere. So apparently the concrete was compromised before the transformer exploded.

        If I had to speculate, I'd say a structural failure of the concrete allowed much more water past the turbine blades; the corresponding increase in speed overloaded the transformer, causing it to explode. After the explosion, the lack of load on the turbine allowed it to exceed its rated speed, at which point it ripped itself apart causing even further damage.

        It's a well known fact that concrete cracks. Perhaps the original engineers designed the spillway so that even with a fully open sluice and no load, the turbine speed would not destroy itself. I wonder if they considered the possibility of a large concrete failure allowing an essentially unlimited amount of water past the turbines.

    • To me this 'exploding transformer' seems strange. I mean, the transformers we use where I work are filled with non-explosive mineral oil. Something seriously bad must have happened to this transformer. I mean, so bad I can't even imagine. Looking at the amount of destruction I just don't understand how it's possible. Any electrical engineers out there who can offer some insight?

      Perhaps the transformers they use in a power station are not the same as the transformers they use at your work?

    • Re:Hrmmm.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by turing_m (1030530) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:34PM (#29114183)

      Looking at the amount of destruction I just don't understand how it's possible.

      The power station converts gravitational potential energy to electrical energy at the rate of 6400 Megawatts. I have no idea how many transformers are involved, but in terms of the total, that's 6.4Giga Watts, or Joules/second. To put that in perspective, 1 tonne of TNT is 4.184 Giga Joules. If there is only one transformer for the dam and this transformer shorts, every second there is up to an equivalent energy of 1.5 tonnes of TNT being converted to heat in a very small space as opposed to providing useful power all over the electrical grid. If there are any ordnance experts here, I'm sure they can clue you in to what 1.5 tonnes of TNT will do. Actually, a bit of googling yields that there are 4 weights of general purpose bombs the US military uses. The largest is Mk84, at 908kg. The others are 113kg, 227 and 454kg.

      To compound matters, what will happen is that the oil will turn into gas, but there is a metal shell that will prevent the oil from boiling over. The longer this metal shell is able to withstand the pressure, the bigger the explosion. Just multiply the 1.5 tonnes/second figure by the number of seconds the explosion is contained to get an idea of how powerful the explosion might be. If some of this oil can ignite, add more energy into the equation. However, it does not even have to ignite in order for there be damage equivalent to a bomb going off.

    • Re:Hrmmm.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Technician (215283) on Wednesday August 19, 2009 @05:39AM (#29116395)

      Most of the damage to the powerhouse is not from the transformer. A transformer may have had and electrical fault that put a sudden overload on the generator. One of the generators has froceably removed itself from the generator deck and totaly destroyed another one next to it.

      The cause of the generator failure (explosion) is not sure. Either torque from a short tore it loose, or the sudden shutdown may have cause emergency shutdown of the water. This can cause cavitation. Cavation is vacuum. Water has inertia. Water has been known to return to the vacuum space with force and damage turbins.

      There was an incident when Ice Harbor dam was built in the Columbia River basin. Part of the testing was to test emergency shutdown. One of the gates closed too fast and cavitation occured as the water continued flowing out of the turbin due to inertia when the valve closed. The water returned back up and damaged the impeller. This was in the early days when the facility was built in the late 1950's. My dad was a power house operator there at the time. Fortunetly, this did not rupture the turbin or damage the generator.

      After this many years, I don't think there is any data online of the incident.
      http://www.cbr.washington.edu/crisp/hydro/ihr.html [washington.edu]
      Ice Harbor dam was dedicated in 1962 by Vice President Lyndon J. Johnson.

      A typical powerhouse looks like this.
      http://www.cbr.washington.edu/crisp/hydro/hydrobon2.html [washington.edu] This powerhouse is the second powerhouse on Bonniville Dam on the lower Columbia River.

      Compare this page to the video of the other powerhouse in the video. Several generators are completely missing and one big hole in the floor is where the turbin under the generator was.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PPH (736903)
      In this video, it appears that there is a guy running toward the explosion. Is this playing backwards?
  • Suddenly (Score:3, Funny)

    by eclectro (227083) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:57PM (#29112617)

    The homeless get a nice raise.

  • by cdrudge (68377) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:18PM (#29112791) Homepage

    From the BBC article:

    RusHydro, the operator of the power station, said the damage would run into "billions of roubles" and would take several months to repair.

    From the summary:

    The damages will take years to repair.

    Apparently the exchange rate between countries is so bad these days that a few months just doesn't last nearly as much as it once did.

    • by Abcd1234 (188840)

      Actually, the third (I think) BBC video contains the "years" quote. 'course, I have no idea which is the more accurate figure.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by John Hasler (414242)

        The plant owners are saying that it will take months to get the plant back in production but years to get it back to full output.

  • Pictures... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:28PM (#29112873)

    EnglishRussia.com [englishrussia.com] has some pretty stunning pictures of the damage.

  • Red Storm Rising (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewk@NOSpaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:34PM (#29112909)

    Interesting that this got tagged !redstormrising. I wouldn't have though about it without that tag, it's a relatively obscure reference to something that happened in the beginning of the book (terrorists blow up an oil refinery in Russia, sparking WWIII). It is a pretty decent book though, unlike all of the later drivel that author pushed out.

  • by GrahamCox (741991) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:56PM (#29113101) Homepage
    I'll say one thing for the Russians, when they have a disaster they have a really big, proper, all-out disaster. They don't do things by half there, unlike the half-assed yanks with their Three-Mile Island and whatnot.
  • Quote (Score:3, Insightful)

    by teddaman (854135) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @08:15PM (#29113227)
    "when Ivan has an industrial accident he doesn't fuck around" Tom Clancy - Red Storm Rising
  • Price of green? What does this mean, exactly? Dams are not all that green in a lot of settings because of their substantial environmental impact. I think the slashdot editors might want to take an environmental studies class or three before making such misleading statements as... oh, wait. Slashdot. Nevermind.

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