Monday, March 14, 2011

Earthquake casts doubt on hydropower

Earthquake casts doubt on hydropower
By Li Xing and Wang Huazhong
China Daily 2011-03-12

BEIJING - The 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Yingjiang county,
Yunnan province, was a deadly reminder that local officials should be
careful in planning hydraulic power projects for the Nujiang River
valley in the province.

Wang Jirong, a member of the Standing Committee of the 11th National
People's Congress (NPC), has prepared a proposal calling for the central
government to "pay attention to the special and complex geological and
seismological conditions in the Nujiang River valley and take caution in
making decisions about hydraulic power development there."

Even so, Hou Xinhua, an NPC deputy and head of the Nujiang Lisu
autonomous prefecture, is asking the central government to hasten the
construction of a hydraulic power project along the Nujiang River's main
stream. Consisting of a reservoir and four dams, the project is to be
capable of generating up to 180,000 kilowatts.

Nujiang River is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the world and
is one of the Three Parallel Rivers listed as a world nature heritage in
June 2003. It flows to Myanmar, where it is called Salween, and to
Thailand, where it is called Salawin.

Despite the river's physical grandeur, the Nujiang valley is one of the
least-developed areas in China. According to the statistical bureau of
the Nujiang prefecture, more than 80 percent of the 510,000 people who
live there are farmers in mountainous areas.

The valley itself lacks much in the way of flat fertile land. But its
sharp vertical walls and abundant water supply make it nearly ideal for
generating hydraulic power.

"People in Nujiang prefecture live on the fringe of poverty according to
the new national poverty line, which was set at 1,196 yuan ($182, annual
income)," Hou told China Daily, adding that poverty is prevalent among
more than 90 percent of the members of the small ethnic groups in China.

"We should be able to scientifically develop (hydraulic power) while
protecting the environment," Hou told China Daily.

He said the project and the power it generates will improve the local
economy and residents' standards of living, while increasing China's use
of renewable energy.

"The people in Nujiang hope to push forward with the hydraulic project,"
Ma Zhengshan, an NPC deputy also from Nujiang, told China Daily.

Ma, deputy secretary-general of the prefecture government, said about
120,000 local people will be relocated if the project is approved.

Ma said close to 500 scientists have studied the valley.

Wang Jirong, who is also vice-chairwoman of the NPC's Environment
Protection and Resources Conservation Committee, said that a series of
national studies have revealed that the area is especially prone to
geological and seismological disasters.

There is a consensus that the area's geological conditions are complex,
Wang said. But those who favor pursuing the generation of hydraulic
power argue that they can still find "solid ground" for such a project.

"My question is: Can a lot of cement do anything about instability deep
down in the earth's crust?" Wang said. "We must be able to make clear
the connections between one location and the whole region."

Above all, decision-makers should consider what harm a geological or
seismological disaster of the worst proportions imaginable would do to
the proposed project, she said.

Guo Anfei contributed to this story.

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