The Itaipu Dam

Itaipu Dam

The Itaipú hydroelectric power plant is the largest development of its kind in operation in the world. Built from 1975 to 1991, in a binational development on the Paraná River, Itaipú represents the efforts and accomplishments of two neighboring countries, Brazil and Paraguay. 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. Itaipú's energy production has broken several records over the recent years, after the last generating unit was commissioned in 1991. The generation of 77.212.396 MWh a year in 1995 will again be surpassed in 1996, and the new record will be around the 80 million MWh a year mark.

The magnitude of the project can also be demonstrated by the fact that in 1995 Itaipú alone responded for 25% of the energy supply in Brazil and 78% in Paraguay. The power plant is also a major tourism attraction in the Foz do Iguaçú area, having received around 9 million visitors from 162 countries. The Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu, also home of the famous Iguaçú Falls, is located at the Western tip of Paraná State, right by the border with Paraguay and Argentina.

General Outline of the Project

The Itaipú hydroelectric power plant, located 14 kilometers North of the International Bridge linking the cities of Foz do Iguaçú, Brazil, and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, consists of a series of various types of dams a total distance of 7,744 meters with a crest elevation of 225 meters. The Powerhouse is located at the toe of the main Dam, most of it on the river bed and the rest on the Diversion Channel. The nominal power of the plant is 12,600 MW, divided between 18 generating units of 700 MW each, 15 of which are located in the main Powerhouse and the remaining three on the Diversion Channel. The Spillway is located on the right bank, and it has 14 segmented sluice-gates with a total discharge rate of 62,200 cubic meters per second (twice that of the highest flood- level on record). The Concrete Main Dam is of the hollow gravity type and is connected to the Spillway by a concrete buttress-type Wing Dam which continues thereon as a small Cardhfill dike. On the left bank a Rockfill Dam is linked to the Main Dam and at the other end to an Earthfill Dam. In order to build the main dam wall and the Powerhouse, the river was diverted through a Diversion Channel on the left bank.

The volumes of construction in Itaipú are also impressive. The volume of iron and steel utilized in the Dam structure would be enough to build 380 Eiffel Towers, 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) and published in Dec. 1995 as a cover article of the North-American "Popular Mechanics". The article says that " To build [the Itaipú Dam], workers reenacted a labor of Hercules: they shifted the course of the seventh biggest river in the world (Paraná River, at the Brazil/Paraguay border) and removed more than 50 million tons of earth and rock." According to the magazine, "the true marvel of Itaipú, though, is its powerhouse ... a single building that puts out 12,600 megawatts -- enough to power most of California".