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Nathpa - Jhakri Hydroelectric Project,

Himachal Pradesh, India

View of Nathpa dam reservoir in Satluj valley

INTRODUCTION: The 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri Hydroelectric is one of the largest run-off-
the-river schemes in the world. It is designed to generate 1500 MW of power. The project is
located at a distance of 150km from Shimla and it is approachable by NH-22 Hindustan-
Tibet road. The project is over a distance of 50 km along the highway between Nathpa
village in Kinnaur district (dam site) and Jhakri in Shimla district (Power house site) of
Himachal Pradesh. Geological Survey of India has been associated with the Nathpa Jhakri
Hydroelectric Project since 1967 when reconnaissance for the project was carried out.
Twenty two officers and thirteen supervisory officers remained associated with the
geotechnical studies during different stages of the project till its commissioning in 2004.
Construction of the project commenced in March 1993 and was commissioned on 18th May
2004. The results of the investigations carried out during this period have been compiled
and brought out as GSI publication entitled “Nathpa Jhakri Hydroelectric Project – A
Geotechnical Study” Bulletin: Series B, No. 60 (2007).
Geological Survey of India

General layout of Nathpa Jhakri H.E. Project.

Salient features: The project is unique in the sense that it involved the construction of some
largest structures of its kind in the world. Details of salient features of the project are given

Dam 62.5 m high concrete gravity

Desilting 4 Nos., egg-shaped, each 525 m x 27.5 m x 16.31 m to

Chambers remove particles down to 0.2 mm (world's one of the largest
underground complex for power generation).
Head Race Tunnel 10.15 m dia, 27.395 km long, circular (one of the world’s
longest power tunnel)
Surge Shaft 21.6m dia, 301m deep (one of the world’s deepest of its
Pressure Shafts 3 steel lined, each 4.9 m dia, 571m to 622m long
Power House Underground, 222 m x 20 m x 49 m
Transformer Hall Underground, 196 m x 18 m x 27.5 m
Tail Race Tunnel 10.15 m dia, 982 m long, circular
Turbines 6 Nos. Francis, each of 250MW capacity
Design discharge 405 cumecs
Design head 428 m

Geology: The area exposes mainly unfossiliferous metamorphic rocks with basic and acidic
intrusions belonging to Jeori – Wangtu Granitoid. The rocks exposed in the project area are
mainly of two types – gneiss and schist with amphibolite, granite and pegmatite. In the

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Geological Survey of India
project area, where dam complex, desilting chambers and HRT up to about Ch. 15km is
located, different types of gneisses with some schist and amphibolite bands have been met.
Down stream of HRT Ch.15 km to the powerhouse complex, largely quartz mica-schist with
its variants occurs.

Explorations for various engineering structures of the project was carried out by detailed
surface and subsurface explorations involving geological mapping on scales varying from
1:10,000 to 1:500, 3-dimensional logging of 16 exploratory drifts (cumulative length 3308m)
and drill core logging of 77 holes aggregating 7000m length.

As the project is located in the one of the most active seismic region of the world, i.e. the
Himalaya, detail seismotectonic evaluation of the project and its surrounding area was
carried out and after detailed studies PGA (peak ground acceleration) of 0.23g has been
adopted in the design. The construction activity started on 13th April 1989 however full scale
construction work started in 1993. The project was fully commissioned in 2004.

DAM AND INTAKE: At the dam and intake site, gneiss and augen gneiss, trending nearly
parallel to the E-W flowing river, with thin amphibolite and schist bands occur. These rocks
are intruded by pegmatite. The dam is founded on jointed gneiss/ augen gneiss with schist
and amphibolite bands intruded by pegmatite. Weak schist bands and thin shear seams
have been treated by usual dental treatment whereas reinforcement has been provided over
the sheared and fractured pegmatite. Dam stripping and 8.5m wide dam top approach road
on left bank dip slope was likely to create major rock slope instability along foliation. In order
to stabilize the rock slope, 166 cable anchors of 200T capacity each were installed prior to
the stripping of the left abutment. The lengths of anchors vary from 38 to 42 m including a
grouted fixed length of 10 m. The anchors have been installed at an angle of 15o↓ from the
horizontal. These are generally spaced at 3 m c/c in a staggered arrangement.

Consolidation as well as curtain grouting in the dam base area has been done down to 10m
and 45m depth respectively. On the basis of detailed discontinuity analysis by GSI, the
designers adopted the bearing of grout holes as N 125o (S55oE) and the angle as 70o from
the horizontal.

In the plunge pool area, model studies by central Water and Power Research Station
(CWPRS), Pune indicated the scour level to be around El.1434 m (riverbed El 1450m±) for
semi-erodable bed with uniform operation of sluice gates and deepest scour level was
calculated to be El 1414 m. However, neither method considered geological conditions of
the site where competent bedrock (gneiss) occurs. GSI suggested an arbitrary scour depth
of about 5m, i.e. down to El 1425m±, in such competent rock and the same has been
adopted for the design of rock slope protection measures between 90m-150m downstream
of dam axis. On this basis, 200T capacity cable anchors have been installed above El
1455m on both banks.

The Intake structure extends from about 40 m to about 110 m upstream of the dam axis. For
accommodating four intake tunnels about 26 m wide horizontal bench was excavated in
rock in front The intake structure faced rock slope stability problem due to day lighting of
foliation joints (45o-55o:N10oE to N10oW) in the cut slope design. In order to stabilise the
potentially unstable rock mass, 289 cable anchors of 200 ton capacity each have been
provided after rigorous analysis and adopting c and  as 1 ton /m2 and 41.9o and Factor of
Safety as 1.1.

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Geological Survey of India

Geological cross section along dam axis.

A view of exposed dam foundation

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Geological Survey of India

Portals of four intake tunnels with cable anchors for slope stabilisation.

DESILTING CHAMBERS: An underground desilting arrangement, one of the largest

underground complex for hydro-power has been constructed in the left flank of river Satluj to
remove silt particles down to 0.2 mm size. Four egg shaped desilting chambers of 525m x
27.5m x 16.31m dimensions, aligned N32oE–S32oW in parallel arrangement at 45.60 m c/c,
are housed within augen gneiss under a rock cover of 150m to 500m. Design and
construction of huge underground chambers was a stupendous task and a challenge to the
engineers and geologists alike. The chambers posed several problems during investigation,
design, and construction.

The detail geotechnical investigations were carried out by exploratory drifts aggregating a
total length of about 1190 m. and rock mass classification was provided as basic geological
input for wedge analysis, numerical modelling and design of gigantic chambers. Parametric
values adopted in the numerical model are given below.

Geological Strength Index 63 average

UCS (c) 52.89 Mpa
Material constant (mi) 12.4
Modulus of deformation 13.33 Gpa
Cohesion (c) 2.03 Mpa (rock mass)
Internal friction angle 46o
Vertical stress 8.21 – 12.97 Mpa
Max. horizontal stress 8.89 – 12.27 Mpa
Min. horizontal stress 6.11 – 8.94 MPa

General support provided comprises systematic rock bolts of 6 to 7.5m length and 100-
150mm thick steel fibre reinforced shotcrete (SFRS). High overbreaks, cracking and

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Geological Survey of India
detachment of SFRS and rock failures constituted major problems during construction.
Shotcrete and rock failures occurred in all chambers except Chamber-1. These rock falls
involved maximum failure of 100 m3 to 150 m3 of rock mass.

Underground desilting chamber with mobile gantry at middle beam level.

In view of large rock failures detailed wedge analysis of all chamber walls using the
observed discontinuity data while numerical studies were conducted by National Institute of
Rock Mechanics (NIRM), Kolar, India. In general, the wedges were of 3-5m deep with few
deep or large ones. In view of these instabilities, strengthening of pillars by three rows of
cable anchors with RCC beams uniformally for all chamber walls was provided. The cable
anchors (20m long) of 60T have been installed along all chamber walls at 7.5m c/c at three
levels (near spring, middle level, and just above hoppers) through RCC beams. On the
beams, rails have been laid for installation of mobile overhead gantries for repairs in future,
if any. After the construction of top and middle level beams, development of fresh cracks
and widening of existing cracks including some falls of SFRS was noticed. Complete cast
concrete lining of chambers besides installation of additional cable anchors was provided as
additional support to stabilize them. Jalote et al. (2002) suggested Dywidag rock bolts of
30T working load and replacement of damaged SFRS. NGI (2003) recommended additional
rock bolts and replacement of cracked and deformed SFRS. Finally, only local repairs were
carried out by scaling the cracked and debonded SFRS wherever possible and installation
of additional bolts of 6m to 12m length.

HEAD RACE TUNNEL: The 27,394.5m long head race tunnel (HRT), one of the longest
power tunnel in the world, to carry a design discharge of 405 cumecs has been constructed.
A number of HRT alignments were studied from the geological and engineering point of view
before the final selection. The initial proposal of HRT was aligned to keep the rock cover
less than 1000m. The HRT length was 28.7 km with a siphon and an aquaduct to negotiate
a deep cross drainage, Manglad khad. Most of the alternatives were variations of this
proposal to avoid the siphon. The proposal that has been adopted for construction avoided

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Geological Survey of India
the siphon by increasing the tunnel gradient from about 16 km onwards and passing it just
below the bedrock level in the khad.

The Geological Survey of India conducted the geological investigations by carrying out
detailed geological mapping on 1:10,000 scale, various geophysical surveys, about 2575m
of drill core logging of 24 drill holes, 3-dimensional geological logging of 7 exploratory drifts
aggregating 735m length, classification of the rock mass expected along the tunnel, etc.
These investigations led to the assessment of geological conditions along the tunnel route
that are briefly given below.

Geological map of the project area with general layout and explorations.

The HRT was expected to pass through folded metamorphic rocks comprising gneiss,
quartz-mica schist, amphibolite and some granite and pegmatite. Mainly gneiss and augen
gneiss was expected in the initial tunnel length of about 15 km followed largely by quartz-
mica schist with some biotite schist, chlorite schist and sericite schist in the remaining
downstream portion. Amphibolite and pegmatite occurs both in gneiss and schist.

On the basis of overall assessment of rock mass quality along the entire length of HRT, the
tunnel was predicted to encounter ‘Very Good’ excavation conditions in 12.6%, ‘Good’ in
26.3%, ‘Fair’ in 42.3%, ‘Poor’ in 17.5%, ‘Very Poor’ in 1.1%, and ‘Squeezing’ in 1.3% with a
deviation of 20% from the predicted tunnel length in each category of rock class.

Three geothermal zones along the HRT were predicted on the basis of surface
manifestations of hot springs and the study of geothermal gradient in a number of drill holes.
Temperatures of more than 40oC were expected between Wadhal and Manglad adits. High
rock pressures were anticipated where foliation ran nearly parallel to the tunnel and in the
axial regions of synclinal folds. The tunnel section between Nigulsari and Wadhal adits
where the rock cover exceeds 1400 m in about 400m length, higher rock pressures were
anticipated to cause popping, slabbing, etc. A major shear zone, Daj Shear, was expected
to be encountered towards the end of HRT where squeezing and flowing conditions were

The observed percentages of rock categories II, III, IV were is more or less within the
deviation limit of 20% of predicted lengths, which together constitute about 91 % of
the total tunnel length. Major variations were in rock categories I, V, and VI, which
together constitute about 9% of the tunnel length

Excavation of the HRT has been carried out through 7 adits, viz. Nathpa, Sholding,
Nigulsari, Wadhal, Manglad, Ratanpur and Face-6 by heading and benching using drill and

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Geological Survey of India
blast method. The maximum and minimum tunnel length excavated between two adits is
6475m (Wadhal-Manglad) and 2311m (Ratanpur-Face-6) respectively and the maximum
tunneling from one end was 3821m on the downstream of Wadhal adit.

The rock support varied with the category of rock mass encountered. However, the general
support system comprises 25 mm dia 4-4.5 m long rock bolts (at places, 6m long) and
shotcrete with or without wire mesh. In poor reaches, steel sets have been used. Self-driving
rock bolts have been used in soft ground. The entire tunnel is concrete (40-60cm thick) or
steel lined. Various problems were faced during the HRT excavation and major ones are
described here.

Major shear zones: Though number of thick shear zones intersected the tunnel, most have
been tackled by normal tunnelling techniques except Nathpa and Daj shears. Nathpa Shear
of over 40m width intersected the Nathpa Adit and has been negotiated by multiple drift
method. Daj shear, where sheared rock zone was anticipated to be 120m wide between Ch.
26,000m and 26,450m, branched into several smaller shears. It was intersected at
Ch.26139 m (Ratanpur d/s heading) where flowing conditions were encountered with heavy
ground water flow and was associated with a 30-40 m thick very soft rock zone. Daj Shear
was tackled by using DRESS Methodology (drainage, reinforcement, excavation, and
support solution), a special method employed in tunnelling through sheared and flowing

Low rock cover zones: In the area of cross drainages, Manglad and Daj khads, where
minimum rock cover was 8m and 80m respectively internal rock pressures were expected to
exceed the in-situ rock stresses and was estimated to vary from 2.01-2.20 MPa under static
conditions and 2.77-3.08 MPa under dynamic conditions. It was apprehended that such high
pressures might cause dilation of large rock mass on account of hydraulic jacking due to
leakage of high-pressure tunnel water into the rock joints during operation of the pooject.
Therefore, these reaches of the tunnel with inadequate rock cover were preferred to be steel
lined over the reinforced concrete lining. The length of steel liner in Manglad and Daj area
were 710m and 375m respectively.

Converging ground: The Ratanpur u/s heading of HRT had to negotiate Highly converging
ground conditions due to high ground stresses were observed between Ch. 24438 m and
24745 m (rock cover of 600-700m) where quartz-mica schist striking sub-parallel to tunnel
were encountered which were reflected in the form of cracks in shotcrete, bending and
buckling of ribs and reduction of tunnel section. Tunnel closures were of the order of 300mm
with a maximum of 500mm. This problem was tackled by over excavating the tunnel by
300mm and supporting by steel ribs of suitable size.

High temperature with hot water: Two geothermal zones, Nathpa-Sholding (2.5 km long)
and in Wadhal-Manglad (3.37 km long) sections, have been encountered along the tunnel
route. In the Nathpa–Sholding section (Ch. 1600-4100m), hot water (34.5oC-50.7oC) was
encountered locally at some places. The temperatures were generally below 40oC, except at
few locations. Hence, this section did not pose any serious tunnelling problems during

The Wadhal - Manglad geothermal zone (Ch. 17067 m and 20440 m) began with a major
hot water blowout (54oC; 90-100 l/s) that flooded the tunnel to about 300 m from the heading
as the tunnel gradient did not permit natural drainage. High temperature and humidity made
it almost impossible for the tunneling crew to work.. Augmenting the ventilation system,
efficient pumping out of hot water, and placing 15-20 m3 of ice per day at the tunnel heading
to bring down the ambient temperature within bearable limits tackled the situation.

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Geological Survey of India

Surge shaft: The 301 deep and 21.6m diameter surge shaft has passed through varied
geological materials, i.e. 22m thick overburden, 11.5m weathered quartz-mica schist and
13m thick sheared rock zone in the top portion followed down by fresh and hard quartz-mica
schist with bands and lenses of biotite schist. The surge shaft has been geologically
investigated by geological mapping and three drill holes totaling 413m drilling whereas the
penstock slope has been explored by 293m of drifting (three drifts).

Excavation of surge shaft in progress.

Circular heavy steel sets (300 x 140 mm) at 1.25 m c/c embedded in RCC lining of 600 mm
thickness were installed as supports from top of surge shaft (El 1579.6m) extending down to
3.5m into the sound rock. Shear keys were also provided for the 2nd stage concrete lining.
The support system for sound rock comprised 5.5-6 m long grouted anchor bars and 6.5-7.5
m long bolts at 1.0 m to 1.75 m c/c with 50-100 mm thick shotcrete with wire mesh where

A cavity, 2-3m outside the shaft periphery from 9-10m depth to the surface, developed
during construction due to erosion by groundwater which was treated by filling it with lean
concrete. Drainage holes were suggested to avoid recurrence. In order to avoid settlement
and formation of cavity, unsupported stretchs were reduced from 2.5m to 1.25m, by
constructing ring beam at the bottom at 3.75m interval, doing excavation in 4-8 segments
(two opposite segments at a time), installation of 32, 3 m long anchor bars at 2 m c/c, and
providing drainage holes. These measures were continued down to 55 m depth (El. 1524
m) without further failure and settlement. Three drainage galleries encircling the surge shaft
have been provided at three different levels to drain the area around the shaft to ease the
hydrostatic pressure around the surge shaft and improve the stability of overburden covered
slope. Three penstocks of 4.9m diameter have been constructed in the quartz-mica schist
without any significant problem.

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Geological Survey of India
POWER HOUSE COMPLEX: The power house complex consists of a machine hall
transformer hall, long tail race tunnel, and an outfall with an intake for downstream Rampur
project. Other structures include access tunnels, adits, surge gallery, bus ducts, draft tubes,

3-D view of the layout of surge shaft and power house complex.

Machine Hall cavern: Aligned N-S, it lies within quartz-mica schist (striking across
alignment) under a rock cover of about 300m. The excavation was taken up with a main
central drift of 7m diameter along long axis at crown level and widened into full cavern span
of 20m. Bench lowering was done in 9 stages to reach the bottom at El 982.5m. At various
levels there are 23 tunnels opening up into the cavern. The rock mass for the major portion
was found to be ‘Fair’ with short reaches of ‘Poor’ and ‘Very Poor’ as per Q-value data of
central drift.The support design was finalized on the basis of data gathered from the main
central drift and detailed wedge analysis by Geological Survey of India and numerical
modelling by NIRM. Different parametric values adopted in the model are as follows.

Modulus of elasticity E 10 GPa

Poisson’s ratio 0.2
Cohesion (c) 3 MPa (1-3MPa)
Friction angle 45o
Uniaxial compressive strength 35 MPa (dry), 25 Mpa (saturated )
Vertical principal stress 7.64 Mpa
Max. horizontal stress 10.7 Mpa
Min. horizontal stress 5.12 Mpa

Based on these studies, the final support system comprised alternate rows of 6m and 8m
long rock bolts at 1.5m c/c and 100mm shotcrete with weld mesh for the roof. Also, 11 m
long bolts were installed between RDs 60-90 m and RDs 165-180 m to take care of
predicted deep wedges. In the walls it comprises alternate rows of 7.5m and 9m, including
9m and 11m long bolts in the middle third portion, staggered at 3m x 1.5m spacing with
100mm thick shotcrete.

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Machine hall (power house) cavern after completion of excavation.

Machine hall (power house) after completion of project.

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Transformer Hall: It is parallel to the machine hall at 63m horizontal distance with its invert
at El. 1042m. This cavern is located within the moderate northerly dipping quartz mica schist
and biotite schist under a rock cover of about 200m. Initially it was designed to be supported
by rock bolts and shotcrete. Later, on encountering a predicted thick sheared rock zone
between RD 20m and 40m during construction of central drift along the cavern, steel ribs at
0.5m c/c were incorporated in the design for 40m length of the cavern roof. However, during
construction, it was decided to support the entire cavern roof by steel ribs after a major rock
mass failure occurred in the central drift at around RD 120m due to the presence of soft
mica schist (sheared at failure location), which continued further south in the western half of
the cavern.

The cavern crown is supported by ISBM steel ribs of 320mm x 140mm at 50cm c/c. Shear
zone in the initial 40m reach, has been stitched by long directional rock bolts in addition to
replacing the sheared material with reinforced concrete up to 1.5m into both walls. In
general, 6m and 7.5m or 8m and 9.5m long bolts in alternate rows are provided on the walls
with 100mm shotcrete with weld mesh.

Tail race tunnel: The 10.15m dia and 982m long tail race tunnel (TRT) has been driven
through the rock mass similar to machine hall, i.e. quartz-mica schist. Though some failure
did occur during construction, the TRT has been constructed without any major geological

Tailrace outfall: This structure is 90 m long with a 26.5 m wide crest weir and an open
channel. A power intake structure had been incorporated in the design and constructed to
divert the tail water to a future hydel scheme known as Rampur Hydroelectric Project.

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