Work on the Belo Monte giant hydroelectric dam complex in the Amazon, which has generated much controversy in Brazil because of its environmental impacts, officially began Monday, (in spite of Carnival celebrations) according to the Norte Energia consortium.
Heavy equipment has started to level ground where the dam is to be built in the state of Para north, next to the Xingú River one of the Amazon main affluent, reported the official news agency Agencia Brazil.
The Belo Monte dam would be the third largest hydro-electric dam in the world in terms of electrical output behind the shares Brazilian-Paraguayan Itaipu and China’s Three Gorges. It would span a length of 3.75 miles across the Xingu River, a major tributary of the Amazon River and would generate more than 11,230 megawatts, which could power up to 23 million homes.
The Brazilian government has hailed the project as necessary for meeting the nation's energy demands. The project would also require clearing 588 acres of Amazon jungle, and displace around 20,000 indigenous people by flooding a 516 square kilometres area. It would also dry up a 62 mile stretch of the Xingu River.
The 17 billion US dollars project has triggered reaction and resentment from environmentalists, Indian tribes and peasants who fear about the future of the river’s basin and its rich wild life once the huge cement wall is built.
The plight of the Indians has become a national and international cause with outstanding personalities coming out in support of the future displaced.
Two weeks ago a federal judge cancelled the authorization for the project because it ruled that Brazil’s Environmental Office (IBAMA) had been forced to grant permission even when the construction companies consortium did not present several environmental demands plus a plan to recover the degraded areas.
According to Judge Ronaldo Desterro, officials at IBAMA did not account for 29 environmental concerns related to the project. Regardless, IBAMA had granted licensed to the project due to pressure from NESA and other government agencies, such as the Energy Ministry.
It is widely suspected that the Energy Ministry forced the resignation of IBAMA's last chief official due to his continued opposition to the Belo Monte Dam project.
But another judge threw out the ruling following on an appeal from the Brazilian government that considers the works essential for the country’s energy future and the development of the Amazon basin.
Opponents of the massive project argue that the dam threatens the extinction of 372 fish species along the Xingu River.