This paper discusses human bodies in relation to regulated rivers, via the technology of design and operation of remote control and surveillance systems, in terms of safety and risks. The paper draws on case studies of hydropower in Sweden, both historical and current events, from studies made within the ongoing research project DAMMED: Security, risk and resilience around the dams of Sub Arctica (Swedish Research Council, 2010-2012)
The point of departure is that within current civil engineering education, training as well as within societal and company level decision making on large scale technical systems, the human body, with its knowledges, emotions and affections, as well as its vulnerabilities are to a large extent disregarded. The actual body of the engineer or the operator, for instance the body located in control rooms, is at the same time considered both uninteresting and replaceable, at the same time as it is viewed as a machine, as being part of the machinery and as such, an ever well functioning and never failing machine.
An important feature of the Swedish hydropower dams in this sense is that they are to a major extent remote controlled, with the operators located many kilometers away from the actual dams of which they are in charge. New technologies for camera surveillance and monitoring have provided opportunities to assemble data on a dam and the water flowing through it. This can be linked to the current idea of regulated rivers as controllable, manageable through the correct, the best, technology designed and used.
Accordingly, the engineer – within this paradigm - may perceive him/herself as in control of the river and water flows. However, at the same time, an apparent paradox appears. Within the dam industry sector, it is widely known that on a global level 1-2 large dams break, or fail, each year, and the concept “dam safety” is used to describe a huge amount work and money which is spent to avoid that such events occur. These failures depends both on the human – machine interactions, mistakes made in the daily dam operations, as well as factors depending on materials breaking down, or excessive unpredicted water flows.
Another issue at stake is the continuous regulation of a regulated river, which directly affects the people living around the dams and waterways. Unannounced water releases, may cause fatal risks for people and their domestic animals.
International Symposium on Dams for a Changing World; 5 June 2012; Kyoto, Japan