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Niva River: Encyclopedia Arctica 10: Soviet North, Geography and General
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Niva River

Form for receipt of article "Niva River"
2200 w
[: ]
NIVA River of Murmansk Oblast, 21 miles in length, carries the waters
of Lake Imandra to the White Sea at the city of Kandalaksha. It falls
422 feet in that distance, and, having an average flow of 160 cubic
meters per second, presents a tremendous power potential. Three hydro-electric plants have been projected, to produce a total of 1,171,000,000
kilowatt-hours per year. The plant designated as Niva-II, went into
operation in 1934. It has 60,000 kva installed capacity. The construc–
tion of Niva-III, designed for 150,000 kva, was begun in 1938. It was interrupted during the war, when its unfinished structures were used
as emergency hospitals and for other military purposes, but resumed
thereafter. The first plant provided power for the electrical operation
of the railroad from Kandalksha north, and for the mining and process–
ing industries of the peninsula. The second [: ] is to make possible
a trebling of apatite mining and refining (see article, Apatite) and
the exploitation of titanium deposits, as well as municipal services
in the area.
Lake Imandra lies in the central portion of a deep depression run–
ning from north to south in the rock-ribbed Kola Peninsula (cf.). This
depr ession resulted from tectonic processes in very ancient geologic
times. To the north it continues as the Kola River Valley and the
long and deep fjord called Kola Bay, while to the south it becomes the
valley of the Niva. Glacial action deepened and widened the original
geologic crevasse and cut out of its sides numerous valleys of varying
size and form. Eventually they filled with water, and thus there came
into being [: ] a fantastic chain of [: ] lakes, lying at various levels
and connected by rushing streams.
A quarter of a century ago this land was desolate and unpopulated
Primeval stillness reigned in the forests surrounding the lakes. The
29 marshy tundra was impassable, and it was only on rare occasion that
a Saami (Lapp) fisherman's boat disturbed the waters. The water power,


timber and mineral resources were unused and, [: ] in the latter case,
virtually unknown, and the scant population of the peninsula - some
9,000 persons scattered over an area as large as New York State - eked
out a livelihood by primitive fishing, trapping and, in the tundra, rein–
The post-revolutionary decades have brought remarkable changes,
accompanied by and demanding the use of the power of the river. This
cold, wild and forbidding country has been penetrated, its incalculable
riches opened to exploitation, and mines, factories and entire towns
have been erected. Kirovsk, [: ] to the east of
the lake at the site of the apatite deposits, had a population of zero
in 1929 and 40,000 a decade later. It had to have power. Monchegorsk,
not founded [] until 1935, lying on the west shore of the lake, had
30,000 people in four years, and functioning copper-nickel mines and
a refinery. It uses, and will demand more of, the power of the Niva.
The growth of Murmansk itself, far to the north and supplied by its
own hydroelectric development on the Tuloma River, nevertheless creates
additional demands for Niva power to [: ]
[: ] haul coal, metal, machinery, lum–
ber, building materials, food, textiles and salt north to that ice-free
port, and carry southward its ever-increasing fish catch and imports.
There being no other means of transport on the peninsula but the electrified railroad , Niva power
provides haulage for all the requirements and production of a population
now in the vicinity of 450,000.
Water-power is the more important in that coal and oil are lacking
on this otherwise rich peninsula, while, in these northerly latitudes,
timbered-out forests replace themselves very slowly and the peat bogs
are insufficient for its great requirements in electricity. Fortunately,
resources of water-power more than make good these lacks. The Niva is
capable of producing more than 200,000 kva. of energy (the [: ] installed
capacity of the plants is to exceed this figure so as to assure full


utilization at all times by substituting a turbine in good repair working order for
one which may go out of order or be in process of overhaul). This is more
than half the average output of the great Soviet plant on the Dnieper,
for the Niva makes good in height of drop what it lacks in volume. As
a cubic meter of water dropping one meter provides 7.5 kilowatts at
lest in modern turbines, each cubic meter of Niva water provides 950
kilowatts by the time it reaches the sea.
The speed of flow is not uniform along the short course of the
Niva. Where it lives Lake Imandra there is a stretch of rapids with a
50-foot drop. Then, entering a broad bowl-like valley, the Niva broad–
ens very greatly to form an attractive lake, Pin. There follows another
stretch of rapids, with a 112-foot drop, succeeded by a [: ] quiet
narrow reach called Ples Lake. Then there comes the most sheer and turbu–
lent section, providing a drop of 257 feet, which continues to the mouth
of the river at the White Sea. The three lakes followed by three sec–
tions of rapids explains the decision to utilize the water power at three
The mouth of the river, often indundated by 10-foot tides, is the
site of the ancient pioneer settlement of Kandalaksha, which stretches
along both banks. This is another user of Niva power, for its growth
from 4,000 persons in 1929 to 30,000 a decade later, based on the con–
struction of a fish cannery, saw-mill and machine manufacturing plant,
was largely made possible by the building of Niva-II, while further
progress depends upon the completion of [: ] Niva-III.
Niva-II was built to utilize the middle series of rapids. Not far
from the station of Pinozero, travelers along the railroad see the
shield-dam of that plant, which backs up a quiet artificial reservoir.
Four huge inclined pipes divert the water down to the generator house,
located far below, virtually at the level of the original base of the
river. Here, again, appearances are deceiving, as the four turbines


housed in this small structure provide as much energy as do the eight of
Volkhovstroi near Leningrad, the first large plant ever built [: ]
by the Soviet regime. As with the Dnieper, distance of drop outbalances
a lesser mass of water.
When operating at full power, water consumption by Niva-II [: ]
drains the river above it to the bottom. Under these conditions, all
three shields are lowered to block the flow of water out of Lake Pin
into the river, and it follows an artificial diversion canal to the
pipes feeding the plant. The canal, three miles in length, gathers the
full potential of the 112-foot drop. [: ] The industrial village of
Nivskii came into being during the construction of this plant, [: ]
[: ] The plant is named in honor of Sergei Kirov, Soviet leader murdered
in 1934, whose energy accounts in large part for the development of this
far and difficult land.
The flow of the Niva varies from 700 cubic meters per second in
the Spring to only forty in winter, but regulatory dams now provide a
more or less even flow the year round. An earth dam with concrete spillway
has been built at the source of the river on Lake Imandra, so as to re–
tain the water of flood-time and release it when needed throughout the
year. The dam raises the level of the lake about a yard. As it covers an
area of 386 square miles, this provides an additional layer of a billion
cubic meters of water. Another billion cubic meter reservoir is provided
by a dam on [: ] the Pirenga River, which carries the waters of
the lake of the same name into Lake Imandra from the west. Further, the
deepening of the Niva at its source makes another half-billion cubic
meters of the waters of Lake Imandra available for power, which former–
ly could not escape over the lip of the river. These measures have made
possible year-round operation of the power plants at virtually full
capacity, whereas the Dnieper Plant, for example , [: ] reaches its height only in
the few months after the ice breaks in the Spring.


[: ]
1936 saw the breaking of earth for Niva-III, located less than two
miles from Kandalaksha, along the lowest of the three stretches of rapids.
Originally scheduled for completion in 1942, work on it was interrupted
by the war. Construction was resumed in December, 1944, but went slow–
ly until the end of the war and for some time thereafter, due to war–
caused shortages. [: ]
However, work [: ] seems to have gotten into full swing in the sum–
mer of 1946, and completion by 1949 would appear to be a certainty.
This plant is virtually unique in that it is being built underground,
at a depth of 260 feet below the right (west) bank of the river. This
will prevent the water, introduced to the turbines through underground
canals, from freezing, enabling the station to function the year round.
Moreover, as is stated frankly in a Soviet description of the dam: [: ]
[: ] "the underground
installations will be entirely safe from enemy aerial attack".
The building of Niva-III involves [: ] several distinct construction
projects. In the first place, an earth dam is being thrown across the river [: ] several miles
below Ples Lake, raising the water level 48 feet. A spillway on the
right bank is to lead to a diversion canal 2 3/4 miles in length. The
first 1 3/4 miles lie underground, beneath a high mountain spur. The
rest, on the surface, will be [: ] covered over
for protection from frost. From the end of the canal the water will
drop through shafts 260 feet to the underground turbines, located ap–
proximately at sea level, from which it will empty through a two-mile
tunnel 30 feet in diameter.
Surface operations in Tthe construction of Niva-III involve [: ] the removal of 700,000 cubic
meters of moraine deposits, 350,000 cubic meters of solid rock, and
the laying of 320,000 cubic meters of fill. Mining and tunneling opera–
tions involve the removal of 515,000 cubic meters of rock and the laying
of 125,000 cubic meters of reinforced concrete. 2,700 tons of steel fab–


rication is to be erected. The overall cost was estimated at 200,000,000
pre-World War II rubles, perhaps $40,000,000.
Construction was undertaken simultaneously at three points, the dam,
the below Lake Ples, the [: ] sea-level tunnel, and the [: ] power
house. A new suburb of Kandalaksha has arisen in connection therewith
at the site of the power house. Construction, which elsewhere in the USSR
often involves a combination of machinery and hand labor, here was entire–
ly mechanized, due to the lack of local labor supply and the great costs
of hauling [: ] all necessities of life hundreds of miles from the south.
The diversion canal - both tunnel and open cut - was built before the
war, the dam afterward. Power shovels were used to remove the moraine
deposits, and explosives and tunnelling for the underlying gneiss.
Construction of the sea-level tunnel also proceeded simultaneously from
both ends: the coast and the base of the shaft where the power house is
to be located.
The power house site was described during construction as resembling
nothing so much as an over-size mine, with the typical pit-head installa–
tions, but for the fact that the shafts are of unusually large dimensions.
One, through which the enormously heavy and bulky turbines and genera–
tors are to be lowered into place, measures 20 by 36 feet. A second, to
carry the high-tension lines to the surface, measures by 19 by 14. There
is also a third, emergency shaft, identical with the [: ] second. Fur–
ther south, closer to the sea, is a huge 20' by 20' air shaft for the
underground installations. This extraordinarily large [: ] outlet to
the open air is necessary to prevent sharp variations in air pressure
at the power house. Otherwise, the switching on of any of the enormous
turbines, releasing an enormous mass of water into the sea-level tunnel
at high speed, would greatly compress the available air and [: ] cause
a rise in its pressure. Similarly, the shutting off of a turbine would
result in a great expansion of the available air and a drop in pressure.
These changes would have a negative effect upon the functioning of the

Niva III

The shafts and tunnels described in the foregoing paragraphs were
built before the outbreak of World War II. Remaining to be sunk were
the intake shafts from the diversion canal to the power house. Other
work [: ] completed before the war in–
cluded the shifting of the Murmansk railroad main line right-of-way
from the immediate bank of the river, where the spillway dam was to be
erected. A beginning was also made in the construction of the 50-foot
earth dam, although that, [: ]
remained to be completed after the war. Likewise, the power installa–
tions themselves had not yet been manufactured. The completion of Niva-II
will make Kandalaksha a rival to Kirovsk and to Murmansk itself as a
northern industrial center. An aluminum plant is being erected to use
Imandra nepheline, and an apatite refinery to make super-phosphate ferti–
lizer. Other, unspecified, chemical plants are also to be erected, and
the lumber industry [: ] is to be electrically powered.
Construction of Niva-I (the plants are numbered from the source of
the river), the smalle st of the three plants, is to begin after 1950.
The Niva network is also being linked into a single grid with that of
the [: ] older [: ] and smaller Tuloma plant, the world's
most northerly hydroelectric development, that is now the sole so urce
of power for the city of Murmansk.
William Mandel
<formula> 191 12 ﹍ 382 191 ﹍ 2292 </formula> <formula> 191 1911 ﹍ 2101 </formula>
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