History of Sayano-Shushenskaya HPP Construction

 The history of building Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam has everything to do with the history of heroic labor of the Soviet people on the top-priority All-Union construction site of this large scale, therefore, it will be curious to recall how a logistic task of delivering the equipment to the “ore heart of Siberia” was worked out in the USSR for the first time.

water dam under white and blue skies

The construction site was indeed All-Union, since the largest production associations of the USSR provided it with the new extra heavy-duty equipment: hydroturbines produced by power engineering association Leningrad Metal Plant, hydrogenerators from Leningrad production and electrotechnical association Electrosila, transformers from production association ZaporozhTransformator.

The 650-megawatt water wheel for the first hydroturbine was manufactured on August 29, 1977. Soon the issue of its transporting from Leningrad to such a remote destination of our immense (at that time) country came up. It turned out that this high jumbo weighing about 96 tons and making 5 meters in diameter was not that easy to deliver. The wheel did not match the railway dimensions. It was also impossible for such overweight structures to cover this distance with the help of towing trucks. It was finally resolved to ship the runners to the Yenisei head along the water route, extension of which was almost 10,000 kilometers. The course included the Arctic Ocean without any better alternatives at the time.

The route from Leningrad ran along the Belomor-Baltic Sea Canal at first and then across the White Sea, the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea. In September this precious and unusual cargo reached Dickson Island. From there the workers of the Upper Yenisei River shipping company took over. For them it was a special lot calling for attention and great care. Bumps and hard shaking were unacceptable for the turbine produced to a precision of a micron.

The wheel was shipped along the Yenisei on the custom-built barge BROP-1010. Its displacement came up to 1,000 tons, length made 65 meters and width – 16 meters. The cargo was not heavy for this barge. The draft was also little – just 146 centimeters. It was easier to pass rapids and shelves. For the iron wheel not to contact the barge iron deck, the latter was covered with hard boarding. The wheel was thoroughly secured to take care of oscillatory motion and bad weather (Krasnoyarsk Reservoir gave the deepest concern). The waves there sometimes went very high, that is why m/v Chadan that was mostly used to such conditions piloted the barge along this extended and rather hazardous route from Divnogorsk to Abakan. It was assigned to the Upper Yenisei River shipping company based in Abakan.

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At the end of the route, from Abakan to the HPP berths, the piloting conditions changed again. At this 150-kilometer long section the Yenisei is much narrower than its lower reaches near Krasnoyarsk. Also the current is much rusher, and the bed is characterized by alternating depths and hard-to-cross water-ways. The Main rapid, Kibik and Karlov riffles called for particular attention making it impossible for large-tonnage ships of Chadan type to sail. Therefore, it was decided to replace it.

The first consignment was delivered on time and incident-free. This day the following year the specialists of the Upper Yenisei River shipping company commenced piloting the second wheel for the Dam. The shipping plan was the same with the same tugboat and its crew completing the operation. The short convoy covered the entire way with no incidents to report. But within several hundred meters of the destination point the ship and the barge got into the strong eddy. The ship fell off, approached the barge, the tow line loosened and caught up on something on the river bottom. In a few moments the tug boat went down-current, starting to list because of the caught line. This rapid listing created an actual threat of capsizing of the entire vessel. The tow line between the ship and the barge was immediately detached. It took great pains to heave the lines and moor the barge with the precious load to the bank. But this wasn’t much help. The waves were still flinging the barge from side to side. Soon it hit its bottom against the rocks and began to sink.

The news that the workers sank the second water wheel almost near the HPP was like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. The construction site management hurried to the accident scene and witnessed something dismal. The barge was next to the left bank of the river and was almost underwater. Only the part of the wheel securely fastened on the deck could be seen. High river waves were hitting the barge against the bank and scattered sticking out stones threatening to devour it together with the cargo. A reinforcing bar happened to stand out on the bank, and the only line keeping the seacraft from being destroyed was attached to it.

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Taking into account the current situation and technical potential of this large-scale construction site, everybody’s concern was to resolve the encountered problem as soon as possible. Upon securing the barge at the bank it was urgently required to build an access road. For this purpose, part of the high bank with hard rocks and boulders was taken down. The heavy-duty American Caterpillar dozer recently supplied to the site was of much help. There were no mobile cranes on the construction site capable of lifting such a heavy load. So, the workers had to involve two diesel cranes with the lifting capacity of 25 tons each. In contempt of all the rules of operating these cranes, the wheel was lifted off the barge as a result of tandem work. Sighs of relief could be heard when the unfortunate wheel landed on dry ground, on the trailer. There wasn’t any chance of getting the barge out of the river. Well after it was cut, and some of its parts were taken ashore.

There were further obstacles in the way of the water wheel towards the HPP, but they were overcome as the transportation progressed. An approach way to the berth had to be built, the road cleared and the driveways provided to let this heavy and bulky cargo through. After a while the high capacity 300-ton crane which was awaiting the wheel at the berth on the arrived trailer, mounted it into prearranged position. Salvage of the wheel took almost a week.

Post-accident analysis was painstaking and comprehensive. It was figured out that prior to the barge arrival the builders had engaged in critical, even emergency water discharge. It had a strong impact on the Yenisei navigable conditions. But the river shipping company was not even advised. As expected, various government committees started out for the accident scene right away to initiate their investigations. Management of the shipping company and construction site, pilotage captain-instructor and the master as well as the tugboat crew members fell under suspicion. Associated state authorities were busy verifying the possibility of sabotage, terrorist act, attempts to freeze the tremendous construction site and cause damage at this crucial moment. Luckily, all the suspicions vanished and no malicious intent was discovered.

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Nobody hurried to report the accident to the top management. They hoped things would come right and there was no need to raise the dust. In fact, everything went to plan at first. But the enemy Voice of America let us down. In just two days it described in detail the accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam to its entire audience. American intelligence seemed to be well run. Nevertheless, everything cooled off very soon. As usual, to be on the safe side, the chief performers in charge of this operation, the head of the shipping company and the construction site manager were strictly reprimanded by the Party. The captain-instructor and the master were also reprimanded and rightly skewed, and the vessel crew was not acknowledged, but unexpectedly de-bonused.

In the following years the same route was used to deliver ten more wheels to the HPP. Transportation was still under close control with no accidents to occur. Except for when the builders considerably reduced the water level and Yenisei River grew shallow. The vessel bilged against one of the rapids and was filled with water to almost a meter. The crew did their best to eliminate the breach and pump out the water.

Adapted from “Feature stories of Minusinsk Region” by A.Krivosheev