The dam, the central feature of the Nurek Hydroelectric Power plant, stands 300 meters high, and supports nine hydroelectric generating units. The facility provides as much as 98 percent of Tajikistan's power. In summer, as the glaciers high in the Pamir Mountains melt, that means almost constant power in Dushanbe, 75 kilometers away.
The dam complex and electricity plant are shrouded in secrecy and even photos of President Imomali Rakhmon's picture in front of the building were not allowed. Police chased away this reporter after detaining him and his frightened driver.
Designed as a pyramid straddling the Vakksh River canyon, the dam measures over 700 meters across at the top; the volume of the structure is 54 million cubic meters of earth and cement. It was constructed between 1961 and 1980 by Soviet engineers and inherited by Tajikistan upon independence in 1991.
Behind the dam, the reservoir holds 10.5 cubic kilometers of water covering a surface area of 98 square kilometers and stretching over seventy kilometers up the valley. Nurek, as it is simply known, is the largest reservoir in Tajikistan.
Tajiks enjoy the refreshing, clear blue waters of the Nurek Reservoir for swimming and vacations. Floating dachas line the secluded crevices in the rocky canyons abutting the main lake. With steep shores and no beaches, swimmers must navigate a rocky terrain or dive directly from boats and the pontoon buildings that make weekend getaways.
There are currently five completed dams along the Varkhsh River valley and another four under construction. If completed according to original plans, the upstream Rogun Dam, another earth-fill structure begun by the Soviet Union in 1976, will be the tallest dam in the world, at 335 meters. Existing dams along the river make Tajikistan the largest per capita hydropower producer in the world.
The town of Nurek, still dominated by a statue of Vladimir Lenin, was built specifically to house the workers who staff the power plant. On a recent day in June, as temperatures soared well over 45 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), buses full of workers shuttled between the town and the tight security perimeter of the dam's power station. Meanwhile, once freed from police custody, this reporter and the driver enjoyed the fruits of the reservoir's irrigation corridor in the form of lush melons and kebabs.
By. Clive Nigel
Originally published by EurasiaNet.org