Plans for the Nu River hydropower development remain uncertain

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Interfax 8 March 2006

Shanghai.  March 8. INTERFAX-CHINA – Wang Shucheng, the director of the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), told the Hong Kong-based newspaper Wen Wei Po that the original plans for the development of hydropower on the Salween River, known in China as the Nu, have paid more attention to the benefits of electricity generation and overlooked environmental problems.

Wang thought that construction could first be started on the less controversial plants on the river, which flows from Tibet into southwestern Chinas Yunnan Province before passing through Burma and Thailand.  The more controversial stations should be subject to further investigations, he said.

An official surnamed Yin with the Yunnan Development and Reform Commission told Interfax that hydropower development on the Nu River was still suspended pending further research.

It is understood that the environmental impact assessment for the project has already been completed, and a number of senior figures in Chinas hydropower industry, including former Three Gorges chief Lu Youmei, have urged the government to authorize construction as soon as possible.

The hydropower plans for the Nu River, with an installed capacity of 21,320 MW, have led to heated debates about their destructive influence on the fragile local ecology and remote ethnic cultures in northwestern Yunnan.

In February of 2004, the plan was suspended in the face of opposition from both the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and environmental NGOs. Chinas Premier Wen Jiabao also intervened, saying that such controversial projects need more research.

According to the Wen Wei Po, the project may start construction in four sections, including Maji, Liuku, Yabiluo and Saige, which are thought to arouse less opposition.  This solution, said Yin of the Yunnan Development and Reform Commission, has been proposed by the Beijing Institute of Exploration and Design, which is in charge of the feasibility research into the project.

Chen Guojie with the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment under the China Academy of Sciences (CAS) noted that no further information about the project was available yet.  Chen believed that the project would still be launched in the future, as the local government was making great efforts to get the go-ahead.