Conservationists oppose Laos dam plans

UPI 24 September 2010 

VIENTIANE, Laos, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Laos says it rejects calls for a dam moratorium on the MekongRiver because it wants cheap power to develop its economy despite threats to fish habitats.

The Southeast Asian nation moved this week to secure regional approval for the first major hydropower plant on its stretch of the lower Mekong in the face of protests from international conservation groups, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported Friday.

The country's proposed hydropower plant threatens the habitat of the giant Mekong catfish, which can weigh up to 650 pounds, the newspaper said.

Catfish as long as small cars and stingrays that weigh more than tigers are threatened by the proposed 2,600-foot dam, but the government said the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risks.

"We don't want to be poor anymore," Viraphone Viravong, director general of the country's energy and mines department, said. "If we want to grow, we need this dam."

In a submission to the Mekong River Commission, Laos said it wants to build a hydropower plant at Sayabouly in northern Laos to generate foreign exchange income.

If approved, about 90 percent of the electricity would be sold to neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Sayabouly is the first of 11 proposed dams on the lower reaches of the Mekong, a river already heavily dammed upstream in China, the Guardian said.