Itaipu Binational Hydroelectric Power Plant, Brazil

Itaipu Binational Hydroelectric Power Plant: Watt Fever

The Great Hydroelectric Power Plant
Aerial view of the Itaipu hydroelectric plant
Worker pedals in the covered vastness of the interior of the hydroelectric power plant.
Hydroelectric Above
In charge of the Itaipu Dam leads visitors in one of the structure's elevators.
endless descent
A worker descends a huge staircase inside the structure of the Itaipu dam
Road to Itaipu
Highway near the Itaipu and Foz de Iguaçu Hydroelectric Power Plants.
Paraguayan Employees
Paraguayan employees talk, one of them drinks mate tea.
Helmets over lockers in an operating room at the Itaipu Dam.
hydroelectric art
Friends photograph themselves in front of the Barrageiro Panel.
Destination: Itaipu
A bus from the Itaipu dam travels along a street in Foz de Iguaçu.
Machines that regulate the hydroelectric operation of the Itaipu Dam
Multiplied work
Reflected perspective of the operating room.
Control room
Employees work in one of the operating rooms inside the dam.
Overflight of the Paraná River
Photographer Sara Wong flies over the Paraná River aboard a motorized hang glider.
Light Replacement
Employee checks the lamps in a corridor of the Binacional hydroelectric plant in Itaipu.
Office with parking
Employee checks data on a computer, with his bicycle at his side.
Rigorously Equipped Workers
Employees of the Itaipu hydroelectric plant rigorously equipped for their duties.
Guided Tour
Itaipu Guide explains to visitors the history and operation of the Binacional hydroelectric plant in Itaipu
Aerial view of part of the huge wall of the Itaipu hydroelectric plant that starts in Paraguay and ends in Brazil.
In 1974, thousands of Brazilians and Paraguayans flocked to the construction zone of the then largest dam in the world. 30 years after completion, Itaipu generates 90% of Paraguay's energy and 20% of Brazil's.

The Guarani Indians called Itaipú an island that existed in the bed of the former Paraná River.

In their dialect, they referred to her as “the stone that sings”. Today, the island is underwater. Instead of stone, Itaipú is a mute monster of civil engineering, made with enough concrete to erect 210 Maracanã Stadiums and iron and steel that would amount to 380 Eiffel Towers.

As we explore the Triple Frontier zone and the waterfalls of Iguaçu, we found that the dam took over much more than this island and its name.

“That's right: Guaíra!” “You haven't heard of it, have you?” asks us, astonished, the taxi driver Sôr Esquerdinha, as if we were guilty of the greatest of heresies. “It was the coolest thing we had around here!”.

The Approval of the Hydroelectric Power Plant and the End of Salto Guairá das Sete Quedas

In 1973, despite the mutual distrust of their dictator governments, Brazil and Paraguay ended a long period of declarations of mutual interest and negotiations and signed an agreement for the construction and exploitation of hydroelectric power.

Two years later, a consortium formed by an American and an Italian company began the work.

In 1982, the work was complete. Due to heavy rains in the region, the huge reservoir was completely filled in just 14 days. It left the Salto Guaíra submerged, also known as the Salto de Sete Quedas, the largest waterfalls in the world in terms of volume, which greatly surpassed the neighboring Iguaçu.

Aerial view of the Itaipu hydroelectric plant

At the option of the Brazilian military government, the Guaíra National Park was destroyed and the rock base on which the falls were dynamited, to facilitate navigation.

This concrete measure ended any hope of future recovery. Aware of the loss, a few months before the reservoir was filled, hundreds of people gathered to say goodbye to the natural phenomenon.

Eighty of them lost their lives when the overcrowded bridge that had supported them gave way.

The International Celebration of Itaipu Binational Hydroelectric Power Plant

Today, this tragedy and the sacrifice of Guaíra have little or no importance in the voices of Itaipú Binacional guides. As tourist buses travel along the base of the 196-metre high wall, the imposing and grandiosity of the structure is highlighted – one of the most expensive in the world and one of its Modern Wonders.

Since the Chinese Three Gorges dam came into operation, above all, the one that remains the great record of Itaipu has been highlighted, as summarized by André, the group's eloquent host. “That's it, my friends, Itaipu continues to be the most productive hydroelectric power plant.

Employees of the Itaipu hydroelectric plant rigorously equipped for their duties.

Thanks to the tropical climate here – which keeps the flow of the Paraná River almost stable – Itaipu maintains an annual generation capacity even higher than that of the Three Gorges Dam".

There were 94.7 GW in 2008, the maximum achieved. And there are 14GW of installed generation capacity, currently divided into 20 units, each providing 700KW. Of these, ten generate 50Hz for Paraguay and the other ten generate 60Hz for Brazil.

To produce the total using thermal generation, 434.000 barrels of oil would be needed every day. Even so, early sharing displeased Paraguay which, after long insistence, in 2009 managed to renegotiate.

Brazil was then granted a better payment for the surplus Paraguayan electricity and permission to sell it directly to Brazilian companies.

In terms of space, the division of the structure has not raised so much controversy. they allow us to enter the operating room, which we see crossed in the middle by a yellow line.

Employees work in one of the operating rooms inside the Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant

The Concrete Border that Separates (and Unites) Brazil and Paraguay

On the one hand, the territory is Paraguayan. In silence, employees savor i will terer (Infusion of mate tea with other herbs or lemon). On the other hand, we are in Brazil. There is a lively dispute about the performance of the Canarinhos in Copa América.

Paraguayan employees talk, one of them drinks mate tea.

There, panels, buttons and endless displays stand out. They form a visually outdated technological set, typical of the Cold War or the classic Kubrickian “2010, Space Odyssey”. They integrate domains with fluorescent lighting that stand out in the immensity and that workers travel by bicycle.

Photographer Sara Wong flies over the Paraná River aboard a motorized hang glider.

After flying over the hang gliding hydroelectric power plant, we prepare to explore other concrete strongholds, equally worthy of science fiction. Without warning, the security of Itaipu Binacional detained us.

Unfounded Suspicions

In spite of the accreditation issued by the Foz de Iguaçu Tourism Department, the poorly informed authorities are unable to understand why, being mere Patricians, we have already visited the facilities twice and why we want to do so a third time.

A worker descends an enormous staircase inside the structure of the Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant

It's strange that, on top of that, we're asking to see the neuralgic technological areas again. They are also suspicious of the “caliber” of our cameras and telephoto lenses.

And, most of all, the surname Wong and the reporter's oriental look. Only after exhaustive explanations from our defenders are we cleared of spying for the China and we can proceed with the discovery of the complex.

Helmets over lockers in an operating room at the Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant.

In the hydroelectric power plant's museum halls, we understand how, in urban and economic terms, Itaipu proved to be revolutionary for the area.

During the construction of the hydroelectric power plant, thousands of people from all corners of Brazil and even abroad increased the population of Foz do Iguaçu, the closest Brazilian city.

The Social Revolution Created by HidroEléctrica de Itaipu

These days, around five thousand people from Iguaçu continue to profit, directly or indirectly, from the dam, which has direct public transport from the center and surroundings to its facilities.

A bus destined for the Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant travels along a street in Foz de Iguaçu.

On the other side of the Ponte da Amizade and the Paraná River, the importance of hydroelectric power proved to be similar to the already marginal Ciudad del Este, the entrance to Paraguay.

Aerial view of part of the huge wall of the Itaipu hydroelectric plant that starts in Paraguay and ends in Brazil.

At the same time, compensation money paid to some of the 42.000 expropriated Brazilian landowners or workers allowed them to buy new land. But land on the Paraguayan side of the created lake remained cheaper.

Attentive to the promotion, thousands of Brazilians migrated to Paraguay. There they created the strange social phenomenon of the community brasiliaia.

Meanwhile, the most disadvantaged took refuge in the city of Medianeira. Part of them came to swell the ranks of the increasingly powerful MST, the Landless Rural Workers Movement.

It was at a national level that both the real “compensatory” benefits of Itaipu and the dependence associated with hydroelectric power were enhanced.

The Blackout that Alerted Brazil and Paraguay of the Importance of Itaipu

At 22:13 on November 10, 2009, allegedly due to a storm that spared generation equipment but damaged three high-voltage lines, all of Paraguay suffered a fifteen-minute blackout. The same happened with a substantial part of Brazil.

Employee checks the lights in a corridor of the Binacional hydroelectric plant in Itaipu.

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were left in darkness for more than two hours and the state of Espírito Santo, inland Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, Bahia and Pernambuco were deprived of electricity during the period. night and the next morning.

This was the only “dry” period worthy of record in an already long history of electrical “extraction” with the enormous mitigation that the origin was confirmed externally.

Since May 5, 1984, when it started operating, Itaipu has always been, for Brazil and Paraguay, a real mine.

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