Chinese infrastructure firm China Overseas Engineering Co (COVEC) has confirmed that work has started on Nepal’s first tunnel constructed by tunnel boring machine (TBM).
The 12km long, 5m diameter Bheri Babai Diversion Multipurpose tunnel will be used to generate 480GW of hydroelectricity and irrigate 60,000ha of farmland in the Bardiya and Banke regions.
According to the project’s client, the Nepalese government’s ministry of irrigation, the tunnel alignment passes through inter-bedded Mudstone, Sandstone and Conglomerate type of rocks with variable soil cover and also intersects two local faults.
Ministry of irrigation project director Shiv Basnet confirmed that the tunnelling project is the first time a TBM has been used in Nepal and added that the project is crucial for the continued agricultural development of Nepal.
“Despite an abundance of water in the numerous river systems estimated to be about 225bn.m3, Nepal has so far only been able to utilise less than 10% for irrigation. The main reason for this under-utilisation was a lack of appropriate infrastructure to manage the huge spatial and variation in the availability of water,” he said.
Tender documents for the project were published in 2012 but the project award was delayed until last year due to lack of funding for the US$100M (£66m) scheme. No dates have been announced for completion of the tunnelling phase or for when the government hopes the new pipeline will become operational.