Friday, January 25, 2013

Ban lifted on controversial Nu River dam projects

Ban lifted on controversial Nu River dam projects
By Li Jing
South China Morning Post
25 January 2013

Beijing has decided to reopen controversial plans to dam the Nu River in
Yunnan province - eight years after Premier Wen Jiabao suspended the
plans out of environmental concerns.

The decision was mentioned in a 2011-15 energy-sector blueprint that was
released by the State Council late on Wednesday night, sparking
criticism about a lack of openness in the decision on the dams.

"Hydropower bases on the Nu River and the upper reaches of the Jinsha
and Lancang [Mekong] will be kicked off in an orderly manner," says the
document posted on the central government's website.

Some environmentalists were stunned by the plan's revival, which is part
of an effort by the government to promote hydroelectricity as a cleaner
alternative to coal.

Opponents said the decision marks a long-awaited victory for the
country's mighty state-owned power companies and local governments that
have been lobbying top leaders to promote the building of mega dams,
regardless of the potential safety risks and social consequences.

"This is really shocking," said Li Bo, a director at Friends of Nature,
a leading environmental group. "There were signs during the past year
that mega dams were staging a comeback after being put on hold for
years, but I'm still shocked by the lack of transparency in the
decision-making process behind this.

"If implemented, these projects could destroy the baseline for
ecological security, which completely goes against a promise highlighted
by the new leadership to preserve a beautiful homeland for our future

The plan would see plants with a capacity of 120 gigawatts begin
construction by 2015, with at least 54 hydropower bases listed as "key
construction projects" and a further nine in the works, mostly in the
seismically active southwest.

Four hydropower bases will be developed on the Nu River, known as the
Salween River outside China.

This comes following "scientific and prudent reviews", the plan says,
officially lifting - just weeks before his departure - a dam-building
moratorium on the river imposed by Wen in 2005 due to ecological and
geological concerns.

The highly controversial Xiaonanhai Dam on the Yangtze River - a pet
project of disgraced former party chief of Chongqing Bo Xilai - is also
among the 54 key stations under development, despite the devastating
impact that it would have on a nearby national fishery reserve, as well
as its poor economic feasibility and Bo's heavy involvement.

Under mainland law, however, each of the projects is still subject to
environmental impact reviews before construction starts.In 2005, Premier
Wen, a geologist by training, shelved plans to build 13 dams on the
Unesco-protected Nu River, one of the country's last free-flowing
rivers. Wen told authorities to "widely heed opinions, expound on [the
plan] thoroughly and make prudent decisions". At least four of the dams
have been revived in the new plan.

"Wen was able to put those projects on hold for eight years, but with
his tenure coming to an end, the pro-hydro interest groups are getting
an upper hand again," said Wang Yongchen of the Beijing-based Green
Earth Volunteers, an environmental NGO.

Both Wang and Li warned of the geological risks associated with building
mega dams in seismically active regions of the country's southwest,
which sees frequent earthquakes and landslides, along with the
destructive impact the dams would have on residents and the ecology.

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