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A mechanism explaining the breakdown of dielectrics with high intrinsic inhomogeneity like natural rocks and concrete is proposed and proved experimentally. This work has a very promising industrial application in the drilling and demolition of natural and artificial solid materials by electric pulses. The mechanism includes the breakdown of gas cavities inside the dielectric and on its surface. At a very high applied voltage, the high electric field causes the breakdown in the cavities. The displacement and conduction currents flowing through a number of such cavities result in the heating of the plasma and high pressure pulse generation. The pulsed pressure results in crack formation and finally, in the destruction of a solid material. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.