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December 31, 2011

Xiaonanhai Dam cleared for construction

NY Times - on Dec. 14, the China State Council approved changes to shrink the boundaries of a Yangtze River preserve that is home to many of the river’s rare and endangered fish species. The decision is likely to clear the way for construction of the Xiaonanhai Dam, a $3.8 billion project that environmental experts say will flood much of the preserve and probably wipe out many species.

The decision is a big victory for Bo Xilai, the Communist Party secretary of Chongqing, the central Chinese megalopolis where the dam will be built.

The Xiaonanhai dam will displace 400,000 people permanently which is more than the 300,000 displaced by Chernobyl and the 88,000 that have been displaced for an extended period by the Fukushima reactors




The 16.6 percent rise in Chongqing’s gross domestic product in 2011 is the nation’s best.

Chinese environmental groups and the Nature Conservancy have waged a long battle against the Xiaonanhai Dam, one of 19 dams proposed or under construction on the upper reaches of the Yangtze. The dams will turn the river from a swift-running stream that drops from its source in Qinghai Province, three miles high, into a series of large, slow-moving lakes.

The projects are part of a frenetic and much-criticized rush into hydroelectric power by the Chinese government, which, with 26,000 such dams, already has more than any nation in the world. At 1,760 megawatts, the Xiaonanhai project is comparatively small by Yangtze standards, but still three-quarters the size of the Hoover Dam, Scientific American reported in 2009.

Critics say the project makes little economic sense except as a temporary job creator. The reservoir will flood 18 square miles of prime farmland and displace 400,000 people, driving the cost of every kilowatt of generating capacity to $2,144 — triple that of the Three Gorges dam, according to Fan Xiao, a geologist who has fought the project for years.

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