Xayaburi dam may cause earthquakes: Vietnamese report

Phnom Penh Post 14 September 2011 

By Don Weinland

The Xayaburi dam project in northern Laos might increase the probability of earthquakes in a region already prone to seismic activity, according to a recently translated report from Vietnam.

The 1260-megawatt project sits about 100 kilometres south of the Lai Chau-Dien Bien fault line.

Construction activity on the 32-metre-high dam, the first in a series of 11 planned in the area, could lead to more seismic activity in the region and threaten the Mekong’s downstream inhabitants in three countries, according to a report by Nguyen Hong Phuong, a researcher at Vietnam’s Centre for Earthquake and Tsunami Warnings.

“After the tsunami in Japan, I find this report to be very serious,” Tran Tu, commercial attaché at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh, said yesterday.

“More studies must be made on this dam before they announce the beginning of construction.”

Viraphonh Viravong, director general of the Department of Electricity at Laos’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, announced Thursday during an interview in Hanoi that construction on the dam will begin before year’s end, according to a Bloomberg report.

Construction on the dam has been underway since late 2010, Ame Trandem, a campaigner for Rivers International, said yesterday via phone from Thailand.

The project poses a seismic threat to the people of Laos and other countries in the region, she said

“Given the risk and probability of another earthquake occurring near the Xayaburi Dam site, Laos should immediately stop all construction on the Xayaburi,” Trandem said.

“Neighbouring countries should demand that an independent review of the project according to international safety standards carried out and that the dam’s trans-boundary impacts on public safety be assessed.”

The accumulation of water in reservoirs also adds to the risk of earthquakes, Trandem said, and the dam had failed to meet international safety standards regarding earthquake safety.

Te Navuth, secretary general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said Cambodia had expressed it concerns over a potential earthquake disaster to the Laotian government, but appropriate action had yet to be taken.

Before construction can start, an independent and specialised research team must assess the risk of earthquakes and dam safety, Te Navuth said yesterday.

The Xayaburi dam project, which is on the Lower Mekong River has drawn strong condemnation from conservation groups over the negative effects it will have on fish stocks and water supply on countries downstream.

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