China Revives River Salween Dams Plan

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The Irrawaddy 13 November 2010

The Chinese central government is reviving shelved plans to dam upper reaches of the River Salween before it flows into Burma.

Several hydroelectric dams on the river, known as the Nu in China, are likely to be constructed in neighboring Yunnan Province, reports the China Securities Journal.

The paper quote Beijing’s supreme energy industries coordinator, the National Energy Administration (NEA), as saying it has prepared a new report which places new emphasis on developing “clean” electricity to curb pollution—from more hydro dam building, wind turbine farm construction and sun-tapping solar schemes.

“Previous proposals to dam the Nu River to generate electricity were shelved following the intervention of Premier Wen Jiabao, but China is now anxious to step up hydro construction in the southwest in order to raise the proportion of renewable [energy] in the country's primary energy mix to 15 percent by 2020,” said the Journal report.

China’s Premier Wen Jiabao has twice ordered suspension of dam projects on the Nu, the most recent in May 2009, due to environmental concerns.

State power firms had quietly restarted work on one dam on the river in Yunnan in early 2009 despite a 2004 ban by Wen.

Hydro projects involving Thai and Chinese firms are also planned on the river inside Burma. The human rights NGO Burma Rivers Network has warned that 90 percent of electricity to be generated by hydro dams on the Salween and other Burmese rivers is earmarked for export—despite the fact that almost 80 percent of Burmese live without mains electricity.

The dams will be “solely for short-term profit of investors, and not for the benefit of the people,” said Burma Rivers network.