Published: April 26th 2012April 21st 2012
So let me beginning by saying that visiting a Dam is not ususally at the top of my list of things to do. However, after speaking with many of the locals here it quickly became apparent that this was a very special Dam. What makes it special? Well the main thing is that this a Binational Dam, a Power Plant that is owned, managed and maintained by two countries equally. The Dam uses the water from the Paraná river, the border between Paraguay and Brazil and as such needed both countries to work together to make it happen. Building anything takes a great deal of planning and an awful lot of paperwork, now imagine two separate countries, both with very different methods, working to come to agreement on everything. That is what happened with Itaipu. Negotiations began in the 1960s and continued for many many years, this type of project was a new idea and it required legal sytems the likes of which had never been seen before. Eventually, the official treaty was signed and Itaipu was born. The name Itaipu is a guaraní word meaning singing rock, and the Dam took this name as the location that was chosen for
the project is home to a large rock in the middle of the river where as the water gushed by it was said to sound like a song.
In 1975 construction work finally began. The first task was to reroute the river so that the main Dam could be built, to do this the workers had to dig a diversion channel. This in itself took another three years, this is not surprising when you learn that the quantity of earth and rock removed is equivalent to two Sugar Loaf mountains! From this point forwards, progress happened quickly and the world´s largest hydroelectric power plant took shape. The workers toiled through day and night at an impressive rate, their efforts being equal to building a twenty storey building every hour. I have already made reference to the enormity of this Dam, however if further evidence was needed then take a look at the ingredients; enough iron and steel to build 380 Eiffel Towers and enough concrete to build 210 football stadiums. This is in spite of the fact that is a ´hollow gravity dam´which uses less concrete than other types. This method of construction gives spaces between each section, these
areas are open with high walkways and are called ´Cathedrals´.
Once construction was completed the reservoir was filled. This formed the beautiful Itaipu Lake which seems to go on forever, being over 100 miles long and almost 5 miles wide. The Lake is now used for a variety of purposes including water sports, boat trips and an artificial beach with sandy banks to complete the experience!
Now the purpose of the Dam is to generate electricity from the wild waters of the Paraná river and in 1984 it began to do just that, with 18 turbines in place the electricity started flowing. In 2006-2007 two more turbines were added, this allowed 18 to stay operational all night and day while two could undergo maintenance work on a rotational basis. Each turbine is over 10m in diameter and the turbine hall is so big that the workers use bicycles to get from one end to the other. The addition of the two extra turbines increased to plant´s production potential to 14,000 megawatts of electricity. For me that figure meant nothing but when you learn that the Dam supplies 17% of Brazil´s electricity and over 70% of Paraguay´s electricity, the
equivalent of burning 433,000 barrels of oil each day, suddenly you understand why this plant is so special.
I mentioned that this was a joint venture earlier and I have to reiterate just how seriously this is taken. Everything to do with the plant is split equally, this includes the output of electricity. With Paraguay being much smaller than Brazil they have just a fraction of the energy needs of their larger neighbour, but still they take 50% of the generated power. They then sell their surplus back to Brazil, keeping everybody happy, or happy as two separate countries can be with each other when sharing a resource! Within the plant, Paraguayans and Brazilians work alongside each other speaking a mix of portuguese and spanish to ensure that the plant runs smoothly. Every level of job is shared equally from the board of directors to the canteen staff to the drivers and when only one member of staff is needed for a position, for example a supervisory role, two people are appointed and they work split shifts. Inside of the Dam the border is still shown on the floor and walls to demarcate the two countries but the workers
are free to cross it within the grounds as they wish, however they must still leave by their respective exits at the end of their shift. So as I crossed the painted border inside the building I have also visited Paraguay on this outing...albeit on a technicality!
On the tour that I was lucky enough to go on we were shown all of these special parts of the dam and were driven around the grounds, giving us beautiful views of the Itaipu Lake and the Dam itself. We were also taken downstairs to the see and hear the massive turbines in action. They move so quickly that it feels as if your vision is blurred and they are so loud that you cannot hear anything but their strength. To get to their level you take the lift, which instead of having floor levels for each button it has the number of metres above sea level that you will be on each floor, strange but true! We were also able to see the Control Room, although it did make me chuckle as although the building is very high-tech and modern, I thought that the Control Room looked like something out
of a criminal mastermind´s lair in the early Bond films!
In 1994, Itaipu was voted one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in tribute to the thinking, vision and efforts that had gone into this Binational project. After visiting the Dam, I have to say I was impressed and that I would recommend it to people in the future. Walking along the corridors and hearing the turbines´ power, feeling the vibration of the water flowing through and witnessing the beauty of the reservoir was a wonderful experience and I am sure that I will be getting one or two Maths lessons out of these statistics in the future!
I will sign off now but I will be back soon, take care,
There are more photos below