By Lucy Hornby and Jim Bai
BEIJING | Thu Mar 29, 2012 6:53am EDT
(Reuters) - China's Three Gorges Corp. on Thursday marked the beginning
of construction for a dam that will flood the last free-flowing portion
of the middle reaches of the Yangtze, the country's longest river.
The 30 billion yuan ($4.75 billion) Xiaonanhai dam is decried by
environmentalists because it will flood a nature reserve designed to
protect about 40 species of river fish.
Completion of the dam would turn the middle section of the Yangtze into
a series of reservoirs, leaving "no space for fish", said
environmentalist Ma Jun, who has been active for over two years in
trying to prevent the dam.
"This is the last one, the last section in 2,000 kilometers (1,250
miles) along the Yangtze that was left for endangered or local fish
species. This would be their last habitat," Ma told Reuters.
A ceremony was held to commence early-stage preparation, including
building a road and laying power lines and water pipes, said Zhu
Guangming, news department director at Three Gorges Corp.
"Construction of the dam itself will begin only after we get final
approval," Zhu said, declining to give cost estimates.
"The government will give due consideration to all aspects including
environment impact before issuing a permit."
The Xiaonanhai dam would be the last in a series of 12 dams along the
Yangtze, the rest of which are all completed or under construction.
The series will stretch inland from the Three Gorges Dam, which has
created an inland reservoir more than 600 km long that has allowed the
city of Chongqing to develop into an inland port. When completed,
Xiaonanhai dam is designed to produce 1.76 gigawatts, a fraction of the
22.50 GW that the Three Gorges Dam will produce when it reaches full
AWAITING FINAL APPROVAL
The Chongqing municipal government is currently embroiled in a power
struggle after the ambitious party secretary, Bo Xilai, was sacked
earlier this month. The mega-city's hard-charging police chief was also
taken into custody by central authorities after spending a day in the
nearest U.S. consulate.
Preliminary approval for the dam was issued by the National Development
and Reform Commission, China's top planning agency, which also has the
authority to issue final approval.
The boundaries of the nature reserve were earlier re-drawn to allow the
construction of the even larger Xiangjiaba and Xiluodu dams.
According to NGO International Rivers, which opposes the construction of
large hydro dams and has been critical of China's ambitious hydropower
plans, the Xiangjiaba dam will be 6.4 GW and the Xiluodu dam 13.86 GW.
China wants to raise installed power capacity by 470 gigawatts (GW) to
1,437 GW by 2015 -- the largest in the world. At least 110 gigawatts of
the new capacity will be from hydro power -- equivalent to five Three
Gorges hydropower projects. Current hydropower capacity is 216 GW, also
the world's largest.
The Three Gorges Dam is the world's biggest power project and was
controversial well before it began construction in 1994.
Objections ranged from the destruction of rare species to the flooding
of historic towns and displacement of millions of people, to concerns
that it would quickly silt up and lose its efficiency in generating power.
It produces about 2 percent of China's power.
Subsequent audits of the Three Gorges project showed that many of the
flooded communities were never properly resettled while the steep banks
of the reservoir have been plagued by dangerous landslides as the water
undermines the hillsides.
In January, China's environment ministry told hydropower developers they
must "put ecology first" and pay strict attention to the impact of their
projects on local rivers and communities.
(Reporting By Lucy Hornby; Editing by David Fogarty and Jonathan Thatcher)
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