, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 16-27
Date: 07 May 2006

Dams in the Amazon: Belo Monte and Brazil’s Hydroelectric Development of the Xingu River Basin

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Abstract

Hydroelectric dams represent major investments and major sources of environmental and social impacts. Powerful forces surround the decision-making process on public investments in the various options for the generation and conservation of electricity. Brazil’s proposed Belo Monte Dam (formerly Kararaô) and its upstream counterpart, the Altamira Dam (better known by its former name of Babaquara) are at the center of controversies on the decision-making process for major infrastructure projects in Amazonia. The Belo Monte Dam by itself would have a small reservoir area (440 km2) and large installed capacity (11, 181.3 MW), but the Altamira/Babaquara Dam that would regulate the flow of the Xingu River (thereby increasing power generation at Belo Monte) would flood a vast area (6140 km2). The great impact of dams provides a powerful reason for Brazil to reassess its current policies that allocate large amounts of energy in the country’s national grid to subsidized aluminum smelting for export. The case of Belo Monte and the five additional dams planned upstream (including the Altamira/Babaquara Dam) indicate the need for Brazil to reform its environmental assessment and licensing system to include the impacts of multiple interdependent projects.