The Kakhovka Reservoir in Ukraine is draining at an alarming rate, and it may be a deliberate Russian tactic to cause a nuclear disaster.

The Kakhovka Reservoir is an immense man-made lake (approximately the size of the Great Salt Lake) in southern Ukraine, currently in Russian-occupied territory. It’s one of a series of reservoirs along the Dnipro River, and supplies drinking and irrigation water to the Ukrainian districts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Crimea.

It also, critically, supplies the water for the cooling system at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, observers have seen that the Russians have diverted a great deal of water out of the Kakhovka Reservoir to fill up reservoirs in Crimea.

“There’s 23 reservoirs; they’re topped off,” said David Helms, a former NOAA researcher. That finished, they’ve been using a hydroelectric dam on Russian-controlled soil to drain the entire reservoir. Since November, satellite data has shown the water levels plummet to their lowest point since the fall of the USSR.

“Even though the decreased water level does not pose an immediate threat to nuclear safety and security, it may become a source of concern if it is allowed to continue,” the International Atomic Energy Agency director General Rafael M. Grossi said in a statement.

The lake level began at 16 meters. It’s fallen to 14 meters. If it falls below 13.2 meters, the nuclear plant’s cooling system can no longer bring up water and will be in peril.

Ukrhydroenergo, Ukraine’s hydro electric company who would ordinarily be in charge of the dam, believes the discharge is being done deliberately by the Russians. New gantry cranes have been observed being used to lift sluice gates. Whether they’re doing it to impact Ukraine’s power grid, reduce their ability to irrigate crops or supply water to cities, or to cause a nuclear incident is unknown, but all three possibilities are on the table.

Photo: Shutterstock