Recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World”, the Itaipu Dam is one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world. Located at the upper region of the Parana River where the borders of Paraguay and Brazil meet, the dam was a joint venture of both governments.
Before construction even began in 1975, engineers had to shift the course of the world’s seventh largest river. Over 50 million tons of rock and earth were moved to create a bypass that measured 490 feet wide, 300 feet deep and 1.3 miles long. The channel took workers almost three years to complete.
Around 40,000 workers were employed during the years the dam was under construction and thousands of people had to be relocated. There is enough iron and steel in the Itaipu Dam to build 380 Eiffel Towers and the project required enough concrete to construct five Hoover Dams.
The dam is 643 feet high and is almost 5 miles long. Although, the main section of the dam is made of large concrete segments that are joined together to form a hollow chamber, the dam is actually several different dams connected together. To the left of the main section is an earthfill dam, then a rockfill dam and on the right, a concrete wing dam.
While the dams structure is quite impressive, the powerhouse is even more amazing. Partially submerged in the Parana River, it measures one half of a mile long and consists of 20 hydroelectric generators that measure 53 feet across. Each generator produces about 700 megawatts of power as around 160 tons of water flows through each turbine every second.
Originally, the dam consisted of 18 generators, but two more were added in 2006 and 2007 completing the entire project. The total generating capacity of the plant is 14,000 megawatts, but a treaty between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina only allows 18 units to operate at one time.
Argentina had concerns that if a conflict arose, Brazil would open the flood gates and flood the countries capital, Buenos Aires. The Acordo Tripartite was signed in 1979, establishing limits on how much the water levels could be raised in the watershed shared by all three countries.
With the completion of the original 18 generators in 1982, the canal gates were closed forming the dams reservoir. Over the next two weeks, heavy rains resulting in flooding caused the water to raise around 330 feet reaching the gates of the spillway. The lake is over 100 miles long and holds around 29 billion tons of water.
In 2008, the Itaipu Dam broke it’s generating record by producing 94.68 billion kilowatts of power. An amount that supplied Paraguay with around 90 percent of the countries energy and almost 20 percent of the energy used in Brazil. Since 1991, over nine million visitors have traveled from 162 countries around the world to visit the Itaipu Dam.