To feed Brazil‘s insatiable appetite for energy to support its booming economy and its 193 million people, the government plans to build the third largest dam in the world in the Amazon Basin.  The $16 billion Belo Monte Dam project would product 11 gigawatts of electricity and would rank it behind the Three Gorges Dam in China and the Brazilian-Paraguayan Itaipu Dam.  The electricity from the dam’s turbines would go to the country’s grid with 70% going to public consumption and 30% dedicated to the mining and minerals upgrade industries.

The dam will be built by the Norte Energia consortium on the Lower Xingu River in northern Brazil, a tributary of the Amazon River.    However, opponents say it would have negative environmental and social impacts while at the same time reducing the flow of the river by up to 80% along a 100 kilometres (62 mi) stretch known as the “Big Bend” (Volta Grande).

Currently, fourteen native tribes live along the river and extract from it most of what they need for food and water. Indigenous peoples and environmentalists say that the dam will harm the world’s largest tropical rain forest and displace some 50,000 people.

Brazil’s environmental agency granted a partial license to proceed in January of this year but intervention by opponents led to a federal judge blocking the license a month later.  The court found that environmental requirements to build the dam had not been met.  However, in June the environmental agency issued a full license for the project and the federal prosecuter’s office responded by challenging the agency’s decision.  Local indigenous groups and environmentalists are also expected to increase their protests.

The dam project, in planning for 30 years, has stirred opposition among environmentalists and celebrities around the world, including the singer Sting and Hollywood director James Cameron, who compared the conflict to a “real life” version of his film Avatar. Cameron has produced a video against the dam.  Earlier this year, 20 Brazilian scientific societies, including the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science and the Brazilian Anthropology Association, wrote to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff opposing the dam, saying it would violate the human rights of indigenous groups.

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