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China Defends Decision to Dam the Brahmaputra

In continuing disregard of India’s major concern over the implications of the daming of the Brahmaputra river in order to construct a hydel power station  at Zangmu in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the Chinese authorities have been insisting that the project will not affect the downward flow of water as feared by India. The construction of the dam as part of the project started on November 12, 2010.

2. A “People’s Daily” report  of November 15 on the subject said: ” Tibet to build first large hydropower station :”The Brahmaputra River, which has long been praised as a “heavenly river,” was dammed for the first time on Nov. 12, indicating that the Zangmu Hydropower Station, the first large hydropower station in Tibet, will soon begin its main construction. The Brahmaputra River originates in China’s Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and is the world’s highest river. The huge gap between the highest and lowest points of the river and the heavy river flow help ensure abundant water resources. The Zangmu Hydropower Station is located in the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra River in Gyaca County, Lhoka Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. With a total investment of nearly 7.9 billion yuan, it will have six 85-megawatt generating units installed, which will bring the total installed capacity to 510 megawatts. It will be the first large hydropower station in Tibet, and its first unit will be put into operation in 2014, which will greatly alleviate the power shortage in central Tibet. The hydropower station is about 325 kilometers away from Lhasa, and its average annual generating capacity is expected to reach 2.5 billion kilowatt hours. Its main function is power generation, but it can also be used for flood control and irrigation. The hydropower station is a key project included in Tibet’s 11th Five-Year Plan. At present, Tibet has only hydropower stations with the installed capacity of up to 100 megawatts, but soon it will have a hydropower station with a total installed capacity of more than 500 megawatts.”

3. The same day, the “People’s Daily”  reported as follows on the construction of a Qinghai-Tibet Power Grid Interconnection Project: “The Qinghai-Tibet Power Grid Interconnection Project has gone smoothly since it started construction. Currently the Tibet section for the project has poured 50% of the concrete foundation. The Qinghai-Tibet Power Grid Interconnection Project is the world’s longest DC transmission line at the highest altitude and the most difficult to construct, which is expected to end the history that TAR has a separate power line. ”

4. In an article on the subject carried on November 18, the Communist Party-controlled “Global Times” has stated that the project would have “minimum effect” on the water supply to the downstream areas. Li Chaoyi, the Chief Engineer  of the China Huaneng Group, the prime contractor for the implementation of the project, has been quoted by the Xinhua news agency as saying: “The riverflow will not be stopped during construction.After it becomes operational, the water will flow downstream through water turbines and sluices, thereby not affecting the downstream water levels.”

5. According to Radio Free Asia, a radio station funded by the US State Department, there has been some opposition to the project even from Chinese environmental experts on the ground that it could cause environmental damage to the TAR, but their reservations regarding the advisability of the project have been dismissed by the Chinese Government while taking the decision to go ahead with the project.

6. In an article by its Asia Environment correspondent carried by it on May 24, 2010, the ” Guardian” of the UK had indicated that the project mentioned above  is not a stand alone one, but part of a series of 28 dams in the TAR planned by Chinese engineers to produce electricity and take it to China via a grid connecting the TAR with China. The “Guardian” article said: “The mega-facility is among more than 28 dams on the river that are either planned, completed or under discussion by China, according to Tashi Tsering, a Tibetan scholar of environmental policy at the University of British Columbia. Tsering publishes a map today of all of the projects that have been reported by Chinese newspapers and hydro-engineering websites. From this, he concludes that the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra – until recently considered the last great undammed river in Tibet – will be the next focus of government efforts to increase the nation’s power supply. One of them is a map of planned dams showing a 38-gigawatt hydro-plant at Motuo on the website of Hydro China, an influential government enterprise responsible for dam construction. A separate State Grid map of future transmission lines indicates the remote area will soon be connected to the rest of China’s power supply. Hydro China and State Grid declined requests for clarification.”

7. The “Guardian” added: “Chinese hydropower lobbyists are calling for construction of the world’s biggest hydro-electric project on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra river as part of a huge expansion of renewable power in the Himalayas. Zhang Boting, the deputy general secretary of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering, told the Guardian that a massive dam on the great bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo – the Tibetan name for the river – would benefit the world, despite the likely concerns of downstream nations, India and Bangladesh, which access water and power from the river. Zhang said research had been carried out on the project, but no plan has been drawn up. But documents on the website of a government agency suggest a 38 gigawatt hydropower plant is under consideration that would be more than half as big again as the Three Gorges dam, with a capacity nearly half as large as the UK’s national grid. “This dam could save 200m tonnes of carbon each year. We should not waste the opportunity of the biggest carbon emission reduction project. For the sake of the entire world, all the water resources than can be developed should be developed.” That CO2 saving would be over a third of the UK’s entire emissions.”

7. Annexed is the text of the article carried by the “Global Times”. (18-11-10)

( The writer Mr B Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )

ANNEXURE Hydro-power dam in Tibet stirs debate

* Source: Global Times * [November 18 2010]

By Song Shengxia Hydropower engineers and economists Wednesday defended plans to dam a major river in the Tibet Autonomous Region, saying the multi-billion-yuan project would not dramatically impact downstream areas, given its minimum effect on the water supply.

The statement came amid concerns from environmentalists that the project could disrupt water flows downstream in India.

The damming of the Yarlung Zangbo River, also known as the Brahmaputra in India, commenced Friday. This marks the start of construction on the main part of the Zangmu Hydropower Station, the first mega hydroelectric power plant in Tibet.

“The riverflow will not be stopped during construction,” Li Chaoyi, chief engineer of China Huaneng Group, the prime contractor for the project, told the Xinhua News Agency Wednesday. “After it becomes operational, the water will flow downstream through water turbines and sluices, thereby not affecting the downstream water levels.”

With a total investment of nearly 7.9 billion yuan ($1.2 billion), the hydropower station will be built along the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River, the highest in the world. It is located in Gyaca county, Lhokha prefecture of Tibet, 325 kilometers southeast of Lhasa. The station, with six 85-megawatt power-generating units, is designed to answer energy shortages in central Tiber, with the first generators expected to come online in 2014.

The Yarlung Zangbo River originates upstream among the northern foothills of the Himalayas and flows from west to east across southern Tibet, where it has long been considered a sacred river. It then passes through India, where it is known as the Brahmaputra River. On Tuesday, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao raised her concerns with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun over the possible downstream impact of the project during the fourth round of bilateral strategic dialogue held in Wuhan, central Hubei Province, according to The Hindu newspaper.

Zhang assured Rao that the project “was not a project designed to divert water” and would not affect “the welfare and availability of water of the population in the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra,” the paper added. China has also expressed its willingness to continue exchanging data with India to minimize the risks of any dispute arising, it said. Environmentalists warn that building a large dam in an area with such complicated geological structures could threaten the region’s fragile ecosystem.

“The diversified fauna and flora there have evolved over tens of millions of years and will be damaged. Blocking the river may also overturn the balance of the region’s ecosystem,” Wang Yongchen, founder of Beijing-based Green Earth Volunteers, told the Global Times, adding “it seems to be unworthy to build a dam while sacrificing the environment.”

Fan Xiao, an engineer with the Sichuan bureau of Geological Exploration and Exploration of Mineral Resources, told the Global Times that interception of the river was just the beginning of a series of water projects in the region.

“Even if the dam is built as planned, it may not function well at a high altitude, where rivers are likely to be frozen for most of the year, and in an area subject to natural disasters such as earthquakes,” he said.

However, Cheng Xiaotao, vice director of the Research Center of Flood and Drought Disaster Reduction with the Ministry of Water Resources, told the Global Times that hydropower will have great benefits for the local economy.

“Relocating residents there for the construction project will be easy given the small population,” Cheng said. “The government has carried out sufficient surveys prior to construction. Officials should communicate well with locals and allow them to see that the projects are for their benefits.”

Ding Yifan, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council, told the Global Times that the pros of building the dam outweigh the cons as hydropower is the cleanest energy and will help reduce carbon emissions. “Any mega-projects in China are likely to arouse controversy. Most projects precede as planned and prove beneficial in the long run,” Ding said.

Liu Linlin and agencies contributed to this story.

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