Nfld. & Labrador

A first look inside the Muskrat Falls construction site

Nalcor Energy, the company leading the Muskrat Falls megaproject, has allowed media on site for the first time.

2 million cubic metres of rock to be removed, making way for mega-dam

Muskrat tour

9 years ago
Duration 2:25
Kate Adach takes us inside the Muskrat Falls construction site

Since the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project was sanctioned in December 2012, its construction site has remained a bit of a mystery.

But Nalcor Energy, the company leading the project, allowed media on site for the first time this week.

It is the first stage of the multi-billion dollar development on the Churchill River.

Gilbert Bennett says a total of 3,000 people will be hired for the construction phase of the massive project. (CBC)

Muskrat Falls will be the most expensive capital works project in the province's history. It will take several years to dam Muskrat Falls and then build an 824-megawatt generating station.

Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor's vice-president responsible for the Lower Churchill project, said two million cubic metres of rock needs to be removed to make way for the mega-dam.

"What we're going to see today is the bulk excavation work, or mass excavation as we call it, of the Muskrat Falls construction site," said Bennett.

"That's a pile of rock. If we took it and made a pyramid out of it, we'd have a structure that looks like the great pyramid in Egypt."

Bennett said they've removed half of the rock so far. Rock is crushed and is used to smooth out roads or to manufacture concrete.

Once all rock is removed, concrete will continue to be poured for three years — all day — every day.

Big dig

  • About six million cubic metres of rock need to be removed from the excavation site. That will weigh as much as six million tonnes.
  • The rocks are not just being carted away. Many will be crushed to manufacture concrete, while others will be used on roads. Larger rocks will later be used for a temporary dam to divert the Churchill River.
  • Once the rock is removed, about 500,000 cubic metres of conventional concrete will come in. That's about three times as much concrete as will be used for the Hebron gravity-based structure.

Bennett said that concrete will be used to build the powerhouse and spillways of the dam, which will divert water.

"Once we have the dam in place, then we can raise the water level by just closing the spillway gates, bringing the reservoir up."

The water will be raised about 35 metres above its natural state.

Massive workforce

As the project grows, so will the workforce. More than 3,000 people are expected to be hired — about half the population of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Despite recent concerns by residents of Labrador, Bennett said Nalcor Energy still intends to hire locally.

"It took some time to get the right people with the experience to do the precision work that we need right here at the site ... but generally speaking, we've been able to find the right people in the province. As of the end of April, about 90 per cent of the workforce were residents of Newfoundland and Labrador."

About halfway along the road, living barracks house construction site workers. The starter camp is already equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi and satellite television.

Workers can dine together communally when not at the sites, and once completed, camps should house about 1,800 employees.

Rock excavation should be completed this fall.

With files from Kate Adach and Matt McCann