[Note: The State Council has not given official approval of these three
dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo. Not all dams in China require State Council
approval, as some approvals are at the regional level. However,
inclusion of these dams in the energy development plan does signal
support for their commencement.]
China gives go-ahead for three new Brahmaputra dams
By ANANTH KRISHNAN
30 January 2013
12th Plan stresses hydropower from Yarlung Zangbo
China has given the go-ahead for the construction of three new
hydropower dams on the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra river, ending a
two-year halt in approving new projects on the river amid concerns from
India and environmental groups.
The three new dams have been approved by the State Council, or Cabinet,
under a new energy development plan for 2015 that was released on
January 23, according to a copy of the plan available with The Hindu.
China has, so far, only begun construction on one major hydropower dam
on the main stream of the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra or Yarlung
Zangbo as it is known in China ï¿½ a 510 MW project in Zangmu in the Tibet
Autonomous Region (TAR), which began to be built in 2010.
One of the three approved new dams is bigger than the Zangmu project.
A 640 MW dam will be built in Dagu, which lies 18 km upstream of Zangmu.
Another 320 MW dam will be built at Jiacha, also on the middle reaches
of the Brahmaputura downstream of Zangmu. A third dam will be built at
Jiexu, 11 km upstream of Zangmu. The capacity of the Jiexu dam is, as
The three projects were listed in the State Council's energy plan for
the Twelfth Five Year Plan period (2011-15), which was released on
The plan said the government "will push forward vigorously the
hydropower base construction" on the middle reaches of the Yarlung
Zangbo. In the Twelfth Five Year plan period (2011-15), the government
will begin construction of 120 million kilowatt of conventional hydropower.
A pre-feasibility study report for the 640 MW Dagu dam passed review in
November, according to the Huadong Engineering Corporation, a hydropower
company that was tasked with conducting the study by the local government.
A notice posted on its website said a two-day review conference for the
pre-feasibility study of the dam was held in November, organised by the
Tibet Autonomous Region government's Development and Reform Commission.
The notice said the study successfully passed review, adding that the
dam would be located 18 km upstream of the already in-construction
The catchment area at the dam site, according to the Huadong Engineering
Corporation, is 157,400 square kilometres, and the average annual
discharge is 1010 cubic metres per second.
The dam will be built with a height of 124 metres and 640 MW capacity.
The construction of the Zangmu dam in 2010 triggered concerns in India
regarding possible impact on downstream flows. Chinese officials,
however, assured their Indian counterparts that the project was only a
run-of-the-river hydropower station, which would not divert the
Brahmaputra's waters. The government has also built at least six smaller
hydropower projects on the Yarlung Zangbo's tributaries, which,
officials say, will have no impact on downstream flows.
Diversion plan shelved
The government has, for now, shelved a long-discussed plan to divert the
Yarlung Zangbo's waters to the arid north, citing technical
difficulties. The plan is part of the proposed Western route of the
massive South-to-North diversion project, on which construction is yet
to begin. Chinese officials and analysts say a diversion plan is very
unlikely, considering the difficult terrain and technical problems.
However, with the three new approvals under the energy plan, four
hydropower projects will now be built ï¿½ all located within a few dozen
kilometres of each other ï¿½ on the main stream of the middle reaches of
Fresh concerns likely in India
While they are run-of-the-river projects, they will be required to store
large volumes of water for generating power. Their construction is
likely to trigger fresh concerns in India on how the flows of the
Brahmaputra downstream will be impacted.
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