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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politicians Insist Dam Doesn’t Pose a Threat

State Duma deputies and governors on Tuesday moved to allay fears that the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric plant, where 75 people died in an Aug. 17 accident, poses a threat to residents downstream.

“The plant does not pose any danger to people’s lives or to the environment,” senior United Russia Deputy Vladimir Pekhtin said. “Specialists are closely monitoring the hydroelectric plant and have not observed any irregularities.”

Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Khloponin joined Pekhtin in dispelling public-safety concerns. “There is no threat to the inhabitants or to the ecology of the surrounding areas,” he said, RIA-Novosti reported.

The politicians were responding to an open letter sent to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by nervous inhabitants of the Yenisei River basin, which called for the complete decommissioning of the hydroelectric facility.

Their letter was published in local newspaper Krasnoyarsky Rabochy last Friday.

Some 1,823 signatories of the letter expressed concerns that the disaster could repeat itself, or that the added strain of the accident and repair work might eventually cause the dam wall to crack. They alluded to “rumors” and “patriotic” experts who supposedly questioned the official safety reports, but declined to name specific individuals or studies.

Pekhtin accused the letter’s authors of fear mongering. “This panic and fantasy concerning the destruction of the dam will have to stop,” he said.

Khakasia Governor Viktor Zimkin was slower to dismiss his constituents’ concerns. “I understand their point of view. They are afraid, I don’t blame them,” he told journalists. But he insisted that the dam was safe.

A network of sensors has been installed at the plant to monitor vibrations produced from the generators when activity resumes. The official accident report, released by the federal industrial watchdog in October, postulated that a vibrating turbine broke free from its mountings, leading to an explosion and the flooding of the engine room, killing 75 people.

State-run RusHydro, which controls the dam, said the plant could begin producing electricity again as early as the first quarter of 2010. Full reconstruction is expected to take five years.