China Moves to Dam the Nu, Ignoring Seismic, Ecological and Social Risks
International Rivers, January 25, 2013
In a blueprint for the energy sector in 2011-15, China's State Council
on Wednesday lifted an eight-year ban on five megadams for the largely
free-flowing Nu River, ignoring concerns about geologic risks, global
biodiversity, resettlement, and impacts on downstream communities.
"China's plans to go ahead with dams on the Nu, as well as similar
projects on the Upper Yangtze and Mekong, shows a complete disregard of
well-documented seismic hazards, ecological and social risks" stated
Katy Yan, China Program Coordinator for the environmental organization
International Rivers. Also included in the plan is the controversial
Xiaonanhai Dam on the Upper Yangtze.
A total of 13 dams was first proposed for the Nu River (also known as
the Salween) in 2003, but Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao suspended these
plans in 2004 in a stunning decision. Since then, Huadian Corporation
has continued to explore five dams - Songta (4200 MW), Maji (4200 MW),
Yabiluo (1800 MW), Liuku (180 MW), and Saige (1000 MW) - and has
successfully lobbied the State Council to include them in the 12th Five
In particular, the State Council's notice, published on January 23,
states that construction on Songta Dam, the northern-most dam in this
cascade and the only one located in Tibet, should proceed during the
2011-15 period, while the other four would undergo orderly preparation.
Both the Songta and Maji dams border the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan
Protected Areas, a World Heritage Site renowned for being home to 7,000
plant species and 80 species of rare or endangered animals. According to
UNESCO, the site is believed to support over 25% of the world's and 50%
of China's animal species. Based on eye-witness accounts, site
preparatory work for both dams has begun. Resettlement has already
occurred at the site of Liuku Dam, and the unsatisfactory process has
been well-documented by the Beijing-based organization Green Earth
All five dams are situated in one of China's most seismically active and
geologically unstable zones. Senior geologists in China have repeatedly
warned about the risks of seismic activity and extreme climatic events
on dam building in the region, including the potential for a domino
effect of dam failures should an upper dam collapse during an earthquake
or extreme flood event.
These concerns are echoed by civil society groups in Burma and Thailand,
who fear the cumulative impact that these dams on the Nu/Salween could
have on downstream communities and ecosystems. Thus far, a cumulative
impact assessment for all dams in the Salween basin has not been conducted.
International Rivers calls on the Chinese government to respect public
opposition by upholding the stay on dam building on the Nu River, and on
UNESCO to remind China of its obligation to protect the Three Parallel
Rivers area under the World Heritage Convention.
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