The head of the world’s top aluminum producer visited Russia’s largest hydroelectric plant on Wednesday to discuss how his Siberian factories will get enough energy after an accident crippled the power plant and killed at least 14 workers.
Rescue workers found two bodies Wednesday in the destroyed turbine room of the massive Sayano-Shushenskaya power station in southern Siberia, raising the confirmed death toll to 14, officials said.
Sixty other workers are missing and feared dead after an explosion Monday during repairs caused the plant’s turbine room to flood. Three of the plant’s 10 turbines were destroyed and three others were damaged, plant owner RusHydro said.
The giant power station has been idle since.
At least 1,000 rescuers have been involved in the search for the missing workers, including divers who on Wednesday braved the near-freezing waters that have flooded the power plant.
The Emergencies Ministry official directing the rescue operation, Maj. Gen. Daniyar Saifullin, suffered a heart attack at the disaster site Wednesday and was flown to Moscow for treatment, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko described the accident as “the biggest and most mysterious in global hydroenergy” and said Wednesday it would cost 40 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) to rebuild the power plant’s engine room.
Oleg Deripaska, director general of aluminum producer Rusal, toured the damaged plant and talked with Russia’s energy ministry and RusHydro about securing energy supplies during the upcoming repairs, which are expected to take up to two years.
More than 70 percent of all the energy from the hydroelectric plant goes to four Rusal smelters, which are believed to be the company’s most efficient plants.
Rusal officials warned that the company may lose up to 500,000 metric tons of output due to the accident. Its smelters are now being powered from other power plants, but Rusal admitted that was just a temporary solution.
Deripaska also pledged to speed up the construction of the Boguchanskaya hydroelectric plant, 500 miles (800 kilometers) northeast of the Sayano-Shushenskaya.
“RusHydro and we will do our best to speed up the commissioning of the Boguchanskaya plant which would help partially restore the energy balance in the region,” he said.
The Boguchanskaya plant, co-owned by RusHydro and Rusal, is the largest hydroelectric project under construction in Russia. It began in 1980 but was mothballed in the 1990s. The first turbines are to be switched on next year but the plant is not expected to reach full operating capacity until 2012.
The cause of the Monday’s accident at Sayano-Shushenskaya was still unclear. Government officials and RusHydro have cited a faulty turbine and a rise of pressure in the pipes as possible causes.
The accident caused power shortages in several towns and major factories, but by Wednesday the energy ministry said Siberia’s power supply had been restored. Energy supplies from other power plants were being rerouted to cover the shortfall.
The Sayano-Shushenskaya plant, located north of the Mongolian border, provides 10 percent of Siberia’s energy needs and is a key energy supplier for Siberian metallurgy.
The power plant’s undamaged turbines could be switched on in a month and a half but the damaged turbines may take as much as two years to repair, RusHydro says.
The accident also produced an oil slick that by Wednesday stretched over 60 miles (100 kilometers) down the Yenisei River.
Stocks of RusHydro dropped 10 percent at Russia’s MICEX stock exchange on Wednesday after trading resumed following a two-day suspension. AP