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Eurasianet

Eurasianet

Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on…

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Kyrgyzstan Faces Heating Crisis After Power Plant Accident

  • The explosion at the Bishkek TETs power plant caused widespread heating outages across the capital, injuring five employees.
  • Investigations point towards technical malpractice and safety violations, with sabotage initially considered but later discounted.
  • The incident has ignited discussions on the power plant's modernization, previously marred by scandals and failures, with President Japarov citing a change in coal type as a possible cause.

Households across Kyrgyzstan’s capital woke up on February 2 to find they had no running hot water or heating. 

The cause was an explosion that occurred overnight at the Bishkek TETs, Kyrgyzstan’s largest thermal power plant, which provides for around 15 percent of the country’s needs.

The incident led to hot water to almost all Bishkek residents being turned off, while sections of the southern parts of the city were left without heating. Schoolchildren were ordered to remain home. 

Deputy Health Minister Mederbek Ismailov said five employees at the power plant were injured in the explosion.

As of the evening of February 2, the authorities were uncertain what had caused the accident. Officials said initially that numerous scenarios were being considered, including sabotage. The Prosecutor General's office said later in the day that it was discounting that latter possibility and that they were leaning toward the improper performance of official duties by technicians and non-compliance with safety rules as more probable causes. 

The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, has initiated criminal investigations into suspected abuse of office and violation of safety rules.

The national leadership has given only a vague sense of the scale of the accident, but the initial picture looks worrying. President Sadyr Japarov took personal charge of the situation from early in the day. He and numerous other top officials, including GKNB chief Kamchybek Tashiyev, demonstratively went in person to the power plant.

Japarov has said that the accident occurred in one of the older sections of the power station. He said he has ordered a total modernization of the facility and will now seek funding to make that happen.

This episode will inevitably reawaken memories of the political scandal that has for years dogged the Bishkek TETs. In 2017, the plant underwent a refurbishment that cost the government around $400 million, only for a major failure to take place there in January 2018, which left large numbers of residents without heating over a number of days. 

Japarov said previous efforts at modernization of the power plant, which was built in 1961, were badly executed by earlier governments and that an entire new plant could have been built with the money spent.

He offered another explanation, though. It is possible the accident happened because technicians switched to a new type of coal, Shabyrkul, which he said burned more powerfully than the Kara-Keche coal that has been used before now.

“I’m not an expert in this matter, but I still think that perhaps they did not take into account the power of this coal. They heated the thermal power plant as if they were using Kara-Keche coal, which is weaker. I think maybe this was the cause of the explosion,” he said.

People in the country’s second city, Osh, are experiencing their own problems with centralized heating. 

On February 1, Agriculture Minister Bakyt Torobayev told parliament that Osh is suffering from a shortage of natural gas as a result of Uzbekistan slashing its deliveries tenfold.

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According to Gazprom, the Russian state-owned company that controls Kyrgyzstan’s gas infrastructure, the decrease in the delivery of fuel is attributable to dwindling reserves at Uzbek fields and a rise in domestic consumption in Uzbekistan following a cold snap.

In situations like these, Gazprom’s office tends to prioritize high-rise buildings, while turning supplies to low-rise neighborhoods of privately owned houses. The thinking is that the latter houses are able to fall back on burning coal or other fuel for heat.

By Ayzirek Imanaliyeva via Eurasianet.org

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