The Soviet Union built Nurek, the tallest hydropower dam in the world, and Talco, the largest factory in what is now Tajikistan, as part of a single system in the 1970s. Aluminum smelting requires vast amounts of power. The dam and the plant were to help industrialize the distant, subsidy-dependent Soviet republic.
Fast forward 40 years and Nurek – which generates 75 percent of Tajikistan’s electrical output – is not enough. The Talco factory uses so much power (39 percent of Tajikistan’s output, according to a 2012 World Bank study; 13-15 percent in these lean years, according to the company), that Tajikistan suffers incapacitating shortages, especially in autumn and winter when Nurek's reservoir is low.
So Tajik officials say they need a new dam: Rogun. However, downstream Uzbekistan is passionately opposed to the project, which is designed to top Nurek and become the world’s tallest.
As Nurek's deputy director Davlatbek Salolov says, “Tell the world: When we build Rogun, all of our problems will be solved. With Rogun we can ensure energy not only for ourselves, but also for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like Arabs sell oil, we will sell electricity.”
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.