Brazil’s proposed dam at Belo Monte

Brazil has been thinking of building a dam across a northern tributary of the Amazon on the Xingu River, close to a place called Belo Monte and also close to where the Jurinia people of Paquicamba live. There has been a tortuous legal process which has been followed in Brazil but now the appeals have resulted in permission for building the dam to be given. It will be the third largest dam in the world and may be no more successful than any other dam.

The dam will provide (the Brazilian Government expects) 11,000 MW of electricity to millions of homes. That figure is a nominal figure. Hydro electric projects are measured in nominal capacity and in the case of this project the capacity is actually 11,233 MW. However, between July and October it will only produce 10% of its nominal capacity and over a whole year will produce less than 40% of its nominal capacity. It seems that the homes will have to get used to less electricity than they need for six months of the year.

As time goes by the hydro electricity generated will decrease as the bottom of the dams silt up, and less water energy is available for conversion into electricity.

The electricity will provide a higher standard of living for millions of Brazilians but will come at a cost.

The financial cost could be as high as $17 billion. 500 square kilometres of land prime tropical forest will be flooded initially but to increase the real capacity of the hydro electric generated by the dam it is expected that another 6,000 square kilometres of forest will be flooded. 25,000 to 50,000 people, whose ancestors have live in the forest for generations prior to Brazil being settled by Europeans, will be made homeless. More people will come to live in the area than the area can support, which will doubtless mean the loss of large amounts of forest to agriculture to feed the people, to housing and to infrastructure required to support modern ways of living.

It is important that we do not think of dams as providing carbon free electricity. The land that will be flooded in Brazil will have vegetation on it, that will decompose rapidly under wtare create a “spurt” of carbon dioxide emissions which will take dozens of years to recover, not taking into account the emissions created when the infrastructure is built.

The Brazilian President has assured us that the dam builders will spend $800 million out of the $17 billion on measures to protect the environment.

Of course the environment cannot be protected once the dam has been built and the land flooded, however much money you spend.

2 Responses

  1. On the 14th of Sept. the other major candidate for the presidency of Brazil, Jose Serra (centrist) was in Altamira and stated that he too wants the Belo Monte dam. As of now 52% intend to vote for Dilma Rousseff (left-center) and 27% for Jose Serra. Thus, there is no domestic political opposition to Belo Monte, except the 8% who intend to for Marina (green). The vast majority of people in Altarmira also want the dam: The whole area wants a reliable source of electricity, including the Indian tribes who need it to operate their water pumps and schools. 7 of the 11 area tribes want the dam. For direct information rather then NGO releases, search “altamiranet.com.br”, and for the government’s video see “AHE Belo Monte” (version habibs 130 is in english).

  2. Correction: “altamiranet.com.br.” seems not be functioning as previously. For excellent comprehensive daily news about the Amazonia states search for PORTAL AMAZONIA.COM – notice that you can search for the day’s news in each of the states. This is real news, by Brazilians for Brazilians – not NGO propaganda to deceive gullible Americans with exotic showmanship about a Hollywood phantasy of the Amazon. (Anybody with literacy in Spanish can understand it. If you don’t understand Spanish or Porgtuguese – you should confine you advocacy to problems close to home…)

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