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article imageCollapse of Mosul Dam 'will be worse than a nuclear bomb'

By Karen Graham     Dec 27, 2016 in Technology
Baghdad - Just 37 miles (60 kilometers) away from the embattled Iraqi city of Mosul is the Mosul Dam, a structure built on unstable, void-prone gypsum rock. The dam is in danger of a catastrophic collapse, affecting the lives of millions of people.
In March 2016, Digital Journal reported the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a security message announcing the Iraqi government “is preparing to initiate emergency maintenance operations to reduce the risk of failure” to the Mosul Dam.
In the statement the embassy said they had no specific information indicating when a breach in the dam could occur, but added: "Out of an abundance of caution, we would like to underscore that prompt evacuation offers the most effective tool to save lives of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living in the most dangerous part of the flood path in the event of a breach."
The hydroelectric power plant at Mosul Dam with four surge tanks in background.
The hydroelectric power plant at Mosul Dam with four surge tanks in background.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
It's not the dam itself that has American and Iraqi officials worried. It is the ground it was built on. The Mosul Dam was built on the Tigris River and completed in the Mid-1980s, creating Lake Dahuk. It is Iraq's largest dam and serves to generate hydroelectricity and provide water for downstream irrigation.
At full capacity, Mosul Dam holds 11.1 cubic kilometers (2.7 cu mi) of water and provides electricity to the 1.7 million residents of Mosul. It is interesting to note that five firms, from the U.K., the U.S., Italy, Russia and Yugoslavia, were asked, one after the other, to do a study on the site and give their recommendations.
All five of the firms voiced their concerns over the karst foundation the dam would have to be built on and cited complex foundations would be necessary if the dam were built where the Iraqis wanted to put it. Finally, a French firm, Soletanch, was used to carry out in-depth geological studies which occurred between 1974 and 1978.
A diagram depicting the grouting locations beneath Mosul Dam
A diagram depicting the grouting locations beneath Mosul Dam
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
With total disregard for any concerns over the instability of a dam built on top of a soft and soluble foundation of gypsum, anhydrite and karstic limestone, construction began in 1981, during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Hussein was assured by experts that the stability of the foundation of the dam could be controlled with thorough grouting within the foundation before the superstructure was built.
But Saddam Hussein wanted the project completed quickly, so to speed construction of the dam, engineers blanket-grouted 25 meters (82 ft) deep around the foundation and added a curtain 150 meters (490 ft) directly below the dam. A grouting gallery that would allow continuous grouting of the dam's foundation in order to promote stability was also installed, and workers were trained in how to do the grouting.
After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi officials were asked to further fortify the dam, but nothing was done at that time, with the exception of the continuing maintenance and grouting being carried out by workers at the dam. "The Americans are exaggerating," the dam's director scoffed. "This dam is not going to collapse. Everything is going to be fine."
Water rushing out one of the chute spillways at the Mosul Dam. The concrete-lined chute exits to a s...
Water rushing out one of the chute spillways at the Mosul Dam. The concrete-lined chute exits to a ski jump section for energy dissipation.
United States Army Corps of Engineers
But in 2014, when ISIS took over the dam and the Mosul Grout plant, all the workers fled for their lives — although Kurdish forces later retook the dam. This is when it was discovered that ISIS forces had either destroyed or taken all the equipment used to maintain the structure. In addition, one of the two spill gates was found to be broken and had been broken since 2013.
But earlier investigations came to light showing a "lack of quality control, allowing deficient drawings, inadequate construction, incorrectly delivered equipment and materials and failure to track completion" had been plaguing the maintenance program for the dam all along, and this had "turned the dam into a time bomb."
Today, under a $300 million loan from the World Bank, the Italian company, TREVI, will have about 18 months to beef up the dam and prevent an impending disaster. Workers are under the protection of five hundred Italian soldiers and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Seepage just east and below the Mosul Dam s spillway.
Seepage just east and below the Mosul Dam's spillway.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
"I don't know if it's a race against time, but we have the know-how and the technology to make the dam safe for the time-being," said a company source on the phone, on condition of anonymity for security reasons, according to Aljazeera.
Iraqi environmentalist Azzam al-Wash compares the repair of the Mosul Dam to "putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound and pretending that everything is going to be all right."
Last April, a symposium of experts met in Rome to discuss the Mosul Dam. This is their dire conclusion: "The question is not if the dam will collapse due to current factors, but when," said the scientists in their final statement. "The reality of a deluge of almost biblical proportions rushing down the Tigris River, killing millions of people, is very apparent and time is running out."
More about Mosul Dam, danger of collapse, grouting, delay the disaster, Tigris river
 
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