South China Morning Post
Premier Wen Jiabao has pulled the plug on a controversial project to
build a dam on one of China's last free-flowing rivers in Yunnan ,
calling for more careful environmental assessment and prudence before
going ahead with the plan.
Sources said Mr Wen ordered a halt to work on the Liuku hydropower
station last month, telling authorities not to resume the plan until
its impact on the ecology and local communities was fully understood.
The plant was the first of many dams planned on the Nu (Salween)
River. Although construction of the Liuku station has not officially
started, preparation work is under way and many residents have already
been moved out of the area.
Due to the project's "far-reaching impact", Mr Wen said authorities
should "widely heed opinions, expound on [the plan] thoroughly and
make prudent decisions".
This is the second time the premier has thrown his weight behind calls
to put the controversial plan on hold. In February 2004, Mr Wen
ordered a suspension of the Liuku project until its social and
environmental impact had been "carefully discussed and scientifically
decided", following a public outcry.
His remarks five years ago were seen as a victory for the project's
opponents, including environmental activists, experts and journalists.
Up to 13 dams are planned by the Yunnan government and state-owned
power giant China Huadian on the middle and lower reaches of the
river, with a total capacity of 21,320MW - about 17 per cent more than
that of the Three Gorges Dam.
But hydropower, especially on a river shared by several countries, has
always proved controversial.
Although local authorities said tapping the hydropower was essential
to eradicate widespread poverty in one of the mainland's most
underdeveloped areas, local villagers have complained of forced
They said local officials thwarted their attempts to air grievances
over unfair compensation.
Opponents argued that the proposal overlooked the grave impact on
local communities and the unique ecosystem of the Nu River.
The plan was also opposed by many in downstream countries and prompted
concerns from the UN heritage body Unesco that the dams would endanger
a world heritage site recognised in 2003, covering the headwaters of
the Nu, Lancang (Mekong) and Jinsha (Yangtze) rivers.
The debate on the Nu river dams has over the years - with the rise of
environmental awareness in China - become a much broader debate on the
mainland's fevered drive to build big dams.
Wen calls halt to Yunnan dam plan
Premier orders further environmental checks
South China Morning Post
May 21, 2009
In his remarks last month, sources said, Mr Wen urged caution on
hydropower development, saying that lessons from the proposed dam on
the Jinsha River - at the scenic Tiger Leaping Gorge - had yet to be
Construction of a dam at Xinanqiao started before the central
government approved plans for the Jinsha development, which
environmentalists said would cause irreversible damage to the Tiger
Leaping Gorge. Beijing later ordered a halt.
Dam building in Yunnan and Sichuan - two provinces prone to geological
hazards - became even more controversial after the Sichuan earthquake
Due to fierce opposition, the Nu River hydropower plan was scaled down
to four dams in the middle reaches, including the one at Liuku.
Although the scaled-down plan was backed by the National Development
and Reform Commission, Mr Wen's instructions would halt the project
"for a while", analysts said.
"Mr Wen's personal intervention has offered us fresh hope," said a
mainland environmentalist. "But it is obvious that the project's
advocates, especially local authorities and the power company, have
far from given up hope and the fight will go on."