Russia’s attack on Kakhovka Dam and the impact on energy infrastructure

Last updated:
Nov 17, 2023

What's inside?

With regards to energy infrastructure being the target of hostile actors, historically we have observed that non-renewable sources tend to bear the brunt of physical assaults. This may be attributed to several countries having long viewed non-renewable energy as the predominant energy supply. Therefore, when adversaries have sought to paralyse a country's energy infrastructure, their attacks have frequently been aimed at oil or gas facilities.

Kakhovka Dam attack

On 5 June 2023, there was a notable shift from the usual trend of targeting non-renewable energy infrastructure when Russia conducted a significant attack on Ukraine's Kakhovka Dam and hydroelectric power station.

Prior to Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine sourced approximately half of its electricity from four nuclear power plants, with the remainder coming largely from thermoelectric generators, hydroelectric power stations and renewables - 10% specifically from hydroelectric power.

For context, as of 2022, hydroelectric power accounted for 1.8% of the renewable energy mix in the UK, with renewable energy overall contributing 40% of the country's total power generation. Therefore, Ukraine's 10% reliance on hydroelectric power is sizable.

Flooded streets of Kherson after the explosion of the dam


According to available data, the total area of buildings and structures impacted by flooding was 8,588,175 square meters. The Kherson district experienced the highest number of flooded buildings at 6,612. The Kakhovka district saw the second largest number with 4,334 structures completely inundated. Comparatively, the flooding had the least effect in the Skadovsk and Beryslav districts, with only 122 and 93 flooded buildings reported in each respective area.

The damage to the dam has been lasting, and in October 2023, the Ukrainian government, in conjunction with the UN, published a report revealing that the dam's destruction led to losses of approximately USD 14 billion. Furthermore, nearly one million people lost access to safe drinking water and 140,000 lost electrical power.

Currently, crews are continuing to clear debris carried by the floods and wreckage from destroyed buildings. As per the UN report, recovery and reconstruction of the dam and power plant could continue until 2033, painting a bleak outlook for the facility.

On 30 October 2023, Ukrhydroenergo issued a statement affirming their commitment to ensuring a consistent electricity supply to consumers during the imminent autumn-winter season despite facing challenges with their equipment. These challenges stem from the company's reliance on bespoke, long-production-cycle equipment, often posing difficulties in replacement or modernisation. The destruction of infrastructure by Russian missiles only exacerbates such production issues.

The company also detailed its strategic initiatives for the prospective liberation of the left bank of Kherson. These plans include the potential construction of temporary hydro-technical structures strategically designed to facilitate water accumulation in the Kahovka reservoir. Moreover, these structures are envisioned to play a pivotal role in providing access to the damaged Kakhovka plant, thus contributing to the ongoing restoration efforts.

Kakhovka Reservoir, after attack

Geneva Conventions

In the legal context of Russia's dam assault and its compliance with international law, specifically the Geneva Conventions, the attack violates Article 15. This article designates specific installations, including dams, as off-limits during armed conflicts due to their potential to cause severe harm to civilian populations.

In this case, attacking the dam would only be permissible if there was evidence of a Ukrainian military unit nearby, justifying it as a military target. However, assessments by experts, including Professor Tracey German at King's College London as of June this year, indicate that this was not the case.

Increased Russian attacks in coming winter months

As we approach the winter season, it is highly likely that Russia will escalate its assaults on Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Positively, Ukraine has asserted increased readiness compared to the previous year, bolstering its air defence systems. In October, Germany announced a commitment of USD 1.1 billion to provide Ukraine with new air defence capabilities.

Although these measures are promising, safeguarding over 100 substations and high-voltage transmission stations spread across the country is impossible. While Ukraine's energy infrastructure may fare better than the previous year, substantial disruptions are still anticipated.

Each week, our Threat Intelligence team will be analysing a different energy industry as part of our Energy in Crisis series (including Nuclear, Wind, Solar, Hydroelectric and more). Follow us here or on LinkedIn to stay up-to-date with the latest analysis.

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