Published on Eurasianet.org, by Clive Nigel, 6/29/07.
One and one-half hours from Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, smooth roads wind through the fertile Vakhsh River valley, past bountiful fruit orchards and families harvesting golden summer wheat. Just past the utilitarian structures of Nurek town, the road abruptly stops at a checkpoint where local police vigilantly watch out for foreigners, perceived spies, and anyone else who might be a source of a little “donation.” Security is indeed tight around the world’s tallest dam.
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 …
… 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. (full text).
(Editor’s Note: Clive Nigel is a pseudonym for a reporter based in Tajikistan).