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Major dam near a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine suddenly collapses

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ukraine has faced a brutal invasion, missile strikes on hospitals and apartment buildings, power outages and now a dam break.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The dam collapsed in southern Ukraine in a region controlled by Russia. It's on the Dnipro River, the great waterway that winds through the middle of the country. People downstream now face a risk of floods. Just upstream is a nuclear power plant that depends on the river for cooling water.

MARTIN: For the latest, we're joined now by NPR's Greg Myre, who is in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Could you just start by telling us what we know about the situation at this dam?

MYRE: Right. We're talking about the Kakhovka dam. It's on the big, broad Dnipro River in southern Ukraine. A video on social media shows a big chunk of the dam collapsed overnight. And early Tuesday, you just see water rushing through the breach. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is blaming Russia and called an emergency meeting of his security advisers. Russia, in turn, is blaming Ukraine. Now, neither side is providing proof. And the dam, we should note, was damaged last year in some shelling. It's been under stress from record high waters. And we even saw photos in recent days where the water was so high it was flowing over the top of the dam.

MARTIN: So whatever caused this, what are the potential consequences?

MYRE: Well, the most immediate is major flooding in southern Ukraine further to the south of the dam along the river. Ukrainian officials say there's about 80 cities, towns and villages in this area, as well, we should note, some Russian troops. Now, we're already getting reports that water levels are rising rapidly, and low-lying areas are being evacuated. And the land on the eastern side of the river is actually a little bit lower than the land on the western side of the river. So it's the eastern side, where some of these Russian troops are, that faces the greater potential danger.

MARTIN: And we've already mentioned that there could be serious consequences upriver, too, where there's a nuclear power plant. Can you talk more about that?

MYRE: Sure. We're talking about this already troubled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest nuclear plant in Europe. Russian troops seized the plant in the early days of the war. There's been periodic shelling around the plant. The U.N. nuclear agency has warned repeatedly about the threat of an accident. It now says it's closely monitoring these latest developments.

MARTIN: Could you tell us more about how the dam collapse could endanger the nuclear plant?

MYRE: So the dam is about a hundred miles south or downriver from the nuclear plant. And the dam creates a reservoir to its north. And so this large pool of water cools the nuclear power plant. So the risk is, now that the dam has collapsed, the reservoir is going to drain very quickly. And the nuclear plant may not get enough water for cooling. However, we should stress it's still too early to tell what the actual risk might be.

MARTIN: Greg, before we let you go, is it possible one way or another that this collapse, this dam collapse, is related to this long-awaited Ukrainian offensive?

MYRE: It's certainly possible, Michel. We just don't know. Russia claimed Monday that it had rebuffed a Ukrainian push in the eastern Donbas region. And it said that marked the start of the offensive. But Ukraine said that was delusional, and it's not saying when the offensive starts. However, Ukraine has stepped up attacks in the east. President Zelenskyy praised Ukrainian soldiers who were fighting around the town of Bakhmut. But he didn't say whether this was a larger offensive that was underway.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Greg Myre in Kyiv. Greg, thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.