Dams and Earthquakes

Chinese appeal for dams inquiry

July 11, 2008

A group of Chinese academics and environmental activists call on the Chinese government to review the safety of large dam projects.

A group of some 40 leading Chinese academics and environmental activists is pressing home questions about the safety of high dams and big reservoirs in unstable areas of south west China.

They want government to re-examine plans to put three of the 13 hydropower developments in western Sichuan andnorthwest Yunnan, and to make the results of such re-examination public.

A translation of the petition released by Probe International recognises that the government has done everything in its power to organise disaster relief. But it warns that if anything were to go wrong, with 69 dams in Sichuan province alone said to be in danger of collapse and 310 deemed at high risk, the whole area downstream could be inundated.

If that happened, says the petition, the casualties and property losses would be greater than those caused by the earthquake itself.

To illustrate the risks, the paper takes the Zipingpu Dam on the upper reaches of the Min River as an example. As water experts have described the situation, the reservoir is ‘like a huge basin of water hanging over the heads of millions of people living in Chengdu and the surrounding area’.

In the feasibility study for Zipingpu, scientists anticipated a maximum seismic intensity of 7 in the area but the recent earthquake, with its epicenter just 17km from the dam, reached 7.9 on the Richter scale.

The petition asks “if such mistakes could be made in such a key project, how about the other cascade dams built in the geological fault belts of the same Min valley? Could the same mistakes have been made?”

The petition raises the same question with big hydro dams to be built in other rivers such as the Dadu, Yalong, Jinsha, Lancang-Mekong and Nu.

“With this painful experience of the Sichuan quake still fresh in our minds, we put forward this proposal on behalf of the millions of survivors and for the sake of our descendants,” the petitioners have written.

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