The Itaipú Dam is the largest (most massive) dam in the world. The South American Parana river hosts the Itaipú Dam on the boundary between Brazil and Paraguay. Click here for a gallery of photos. This binational project is a hydroelectric power plant, built from 1975 to 1991 by 40,000 workers. By moving 50 million tons of dirt, earth, and rock, they turned the 7th largest river in the world into an energy machine. Before it was even finished it was outputting more energy than 10 nuclear energy plants. “The power plant's 18 generating units add up to a total production capacity of 12,600 MW (megawatts) and a reliable output of 75 million MWh a year.” (Pharos) That was in 1995. Increasing its output annually, it has set record energy outputs and has nearly doubled the 95 number. “In the year 2000 it achieved its generating record of 93.4 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), which supplied 95% of the energy consumed by Paraguay and 24% of that consumed by Brazil.” (Wikipedia) By 2007 they plan on building two additional units for a grand total of 20.
Itaipú, from the Guarani language, is translated as "singing stones.” The dam itself was named after a nearby isle. It’s considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Politics and Economics
“The political dimension is due to the dual ownership of the river and the economic might of Brazil compared to Paraguay. The environmental dimensions of the project revolve around resettlement issues, compensation payments, and the Brazilian response to these issues.” (American Edu) Since the majority of the financial obligation was on larger country, Brazil has the control seat. Additionally Argentina, which lies downstream, has environmental affects and was involved in the negotiations. They also gain from the cheap power in the area.
The project cost $20 billion dollars. “The volume of iron and steel utilized in the Dam structure would be enough to build 380 Eiffel Towers,” enough concrete to build 210 stadiums, “and the volume of concrete used in Itaipú represents 15 times the volume utilized to build the Channel Tunnel between France and England. Itaipú is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, according to a worldwide survey conducted by the American Society of civil Engineers (ASCE).” (Pharos)
“The height of the dam reaches 196 m, its length 7.76 km. The lake created by this is 170 km long and contains 29 billion tons of water.” (Solar) It also stretches 4.8 miles across the river.
Comparisons to other energy:
- For the same yearly output as ITAIPÚ a solar PV-plant would cost US$ 132 billion. (Solar)
- By 2007 will easily produce more energy than 20 nuclear power plants.
- If Brazil were to use Thermal Power Generation to produce the electric power of Itaipú, 434 thousand barrels of petroleum would have to be burned every day. (Wikipedia)
- Also important to note the negative affects of building such a massive dam in the middle of the rain forest is deforestation, endangerment of species, and the impact on natural vegetation. “Over 700 square kilometers of forests have been negatively affected.”
- ”Over 50 percent of what could have been lost in the region remains. Given the precautions and environmental planning performed by the Paraguayan and Brazilian governments, once the impacts on the vegetation were realized after construction was begun, further damage was monitored and controlled.” (American Edu)