Nujiang River Hydropower triggers “word wars”

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Daily Economic News 10 March 2011


The Nu River, which originates from the southern part of Danggula Mountains, has made a strong resurgence. The debate on developing its hydraulic power – a debate which has been lasting over ten years – once again became deputies’ focus during this year’s “two sessions”

On March 9, Wang Jirong, member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and deputy director of both SEPA and of the NPC Environmental Resources Committee, reintroduced talk of developing Nu River hydraulic power.

Wang’s proposal, which emphasized the importance of keeping the Nu River region’s complicated geological nuances and seismic possibilities in mind, aired on the precautionary side. She advised that the plan for Nu River Hydropower Development needed prudent revision.

Wang’s statements were largely repeated from earlier deliberations on the project, having previously stated that developing the Nu River for hydraulic power should not be done in haste. Wang is not alone in her stance, for, on March 8, Bai Enpei referred to the project and expressed the same opinion of caution. At this time he also mentioned that the country and Yunnan province has always taken development of hydropower as a serious issue to be deliberated carefully and cautiously, the Nu River Hydropower Development being “no exception.”

Despite these words, the arguments between those supporting and opposing the development have only intensified.

“Approval is still possible”

In 2008, Wang Jirong put forward a proposal on stopping a Nu River Liuku hydropower station, following recommendations by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO.

“At that time, we focused on a general plan first, strictly following regulation while seriously debating over the development of moderate, suitable, and appropriate projects,” Wang said when she was interviewed by Daily Economic News.

Then, after getting a reply from the National Development and Reform Committee, researching relevant materials and visiting several experts in geological fields, Wang concluded that if an unwise decision were to be made, the repercussions could spell disaster to present and future generations.

Bai Enpei also mentioned that intensive ecological and environmental research, as well as research on the relations between upper and lower streams, should be carried out. Only when those problems are addressed and dealt with could we start to step into the stage of development and construction.

According to Bai, research must be continued through the period of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, and then the decision whether to build or not could be made.

However, Nujiang (Nu River) county, famous for its “Shangganling” Yunnan Poverty-Relief program, could benefit from the development, thus it ardently wished to develop Nu River hydropower as a means to solve the area’s poverty issues. Also, during the two sessions, Ding Xiuhua, deputy of National People’s Congress and vice-head of Lushui county, pointed out that Nujiang had already finished an environmental assessment of the entire Nu River Hydropower Development project.

Ding Xiuhua proposed that the government should make the decision of ratifying Nu River hydropower as soon as possible in order to aid in the development of the country and contribute to the country’s clean energy.

On March 8, Zhang Guobao, former director of the National Energy Department, told the reporter of Daily Economic News that there had been no approval to the Nu River Hydropower Development program. As for whether the proposal would pass, he said he had “no idea.”

“The geology of Nujiang is weak”

The area of developing Nu River hydropower is a dramatic lifting area from the Cenozoic Era which, as part of new tectonic movement on earth, now happens to be the most active area in Asia. The area also holds the most serious concern for landslide and debris flow in not just Asia but the world.

Xu Daoyi, a member of the Institute of Geology of China Earthquake Administration, pointed out that earthquakes in Yunnan had increased since the last century, with significant increases specifically over the last half century. Earthquakes of more than magnitude 7 have happened a few times around Nujiang.

Wang Jirong said in their proposals that the Nu River area is the strongest area of neotectonic movements along the Nu River from deep south to north, where movement along the large fault zone has not stopped.

According to "China's geological hazard map", published in 1995, areas from Liuku to Magee have been defined as "serious occurrence zones of debris flow,” and the Nu River area has the combination of several types of potential disasters and large areas of hazard risk. The latest example occurred on August 18, 2010, 11 days after Zhouqu landslides, when extra large debris flow affected the Puladi township in Gongshan county, Nujiang city.

Ding Xiuhua also said that more than 98% of the Nu River area of the city has mountains and valleys, a risky living environment and obvious contradiction between people and land, where landslide and debris flow disasters can often occur.

According to the "Daily Economic News" report, experts who formulated the Nu River Hydropower Development plan also recognized the complexity of the geological structure of the Nu River: “the Nu River fault is the main fault” and is “historically earthquake-prone.”

“The decision of development should be made with caution”

The Nu River’s fracture, generated by deep fault activity, creates a complex geological structure suitable for hydropower development. The formation of "high drop, narrow crossing, water abundant rainfall," describe favorable conditions for the construction of such projects.

Based on this, Wang Jirong questioned that, if the conditions were to be viewed in another perspective, could these advantages also constitute great sources of risk and a possible chain of disasters? She also asked, "Is just a casual evaluation of the proposed hydropower dam really deemed to be ‘good,’ without performing a full analysis of the combined and cumulative effects of cascade engineering, altogether which may lead to a chain of catastrophes?"

On March 9, Wang Jirong formally submitted a proposal to the National People's Congress. She stressed that the complex geological seismic background of the Nu River area must be regarded with great importance, that the decision of Nu River Hydropower Development should be made prudently given as scientific analysis demonstrates that the worst consequences may be caused by single or combined effects of the project, yet that the decisions made could only be tested by history and the passage of time.

Wang Jirong also suggested that "the preparation of southwest China for hydropower development at the national level must overall include and foreshadow a minimization of water resources through divided interest groups, for a chance that excessive development without order or restrictions could lead to over-exploitation and other related consequences."

“Supporters: Nujiang River development will not affect the (small) rate of induced earthquakes”

"It is not true that where there is a high dam, there is greater probability for an earthquake. From a statistical point of view gathered from the construction of reservoirs around the world, related earthquakes were in instances of a few tenths per thousand," said Chen Houqun, a member of Chinese Academy of Water Resources and Hydropower Research Group.

On March 6, Chen expressed his view about the Nu River Hydropower Development at the “Green Energy- Reservoir, Dam and Environmental Protection Forum” held in Beijing.

The forum was presented by the China Hydropower Engineering Society and China Association of Dams, and all experts, including those from the Institute of Geology, China Earthquake Administration and other agencies, without exception, supported the Nu River Hydropower Development. All concluded that the Nu River area does not have a similar geological environment as Wenchuan and would evade earthquakes. In other words, according to this expert, the safety of Nu River Hydropower Development is guaranteed.

At that time, Ding Xiuhua, deputy of NPC from Nujiang City, Yunan province, added, “After years of argument, the thought of developing Nujiang is becoming clearer, and the program of development is becoming more scientific and mature.”

Translator: Chenjie

Proofreader: Cristina Airado