Category: Dams and Earthquakes

On alert: RIS risk amid rash of earthquakes in China’s Sichuan-Yunnan region

(March 22, 2013) A new report, exclusive to Probe International, calls for urgent monitoring of China’s large dams in areas prone to seismic hazard. These areas may be at increased risk from dam reservoir-induced seismicity (RIS). Scientists have observed that reservoir impoundment may not only increase the risk of strong earthquakes, particularly in areas already vulnerable to high-intensity seismic activity, but may represent a more pronounced risk in the first few years after a dam is filled.

Cyberwar and secrecy threaten China’s dams

(March 12, 2013) China may be the world’s biggest cyberspace aggressor, but security specialists say China’s computer-controlled infrastructure is more vulnerable to cyber-attacks and to malfunctioning domestic software than are Western systems. Read Patricia Adams’ piece in the Huffington Post on why China’s dams are vulnerable to both.

Member of the National Committee of CPPCC urges hydro development on the Nu River

(March 4, 2013) In a throwback to Maoist propaganda, a member of China’s National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference has promised that building a rash of dams on China’s Nu River will cure all ills, and bring harmonious development, and leap-forward development to boot. In reality, scientists worry that the dams will trigger earthquakes and landslides and be unable to operate at full capacity for lack of water. Downstream countries are also worried about the loss of natural river flow on which their economies depend.

Trouble on the Yangtze

(December 19, 2012) A central government plan to dramatically increase China’s reliance on non-fossil fuels will derive two-thirds of that target from hydropower – “an increase on par with adding nearly one Three Gorges Dam a year,” reports Jane Qiu for Science magazine. In her article on over-development of the country’s river pulse, the once mighty Yangtze, Qiu looks at the threat China’s damming fever poses to river habitats and species, the calamity potential of dam construction in quake-prone regions and mounting criticism of China’s biased environmental impact assessment process.

Mega-dams in China’s earthquake zones could have “disastrous consequences”

(October 31, 2012) “Earthquake Hazards and Large Dams in Western China,” the Probe International report authored by geologist John Jackson, has set China’s academic and industry circles astir. As the debate over Jackson’s findings heats up, the respected Caixin Media magazine, New Century Weekly, looks at both sides of the debate and the specific issues Jackson’s explosive report has raised.

Whitewashing the Three Gorges Dam

(October 15, 2012) Lauded by Chinese officialdom as a symbol of its growing might, the Three Gorges Dam had already been in operation for eight years when the Three Gorges Corporation issued its first-ever corporate social responsibility report. The release of the CSR report coincided with a wave of heightened concern surrounding the dam’s failings and impacts, and a rare admission by China’s State Council that all was not well with the jewel in its crown of modernity. A commentary by Li Tie at the time, published by China’s respected South Weekend, described the Corporation’s document as awash in insipid content” and exactly not what the public needed, which was honesty. Li even went so far as to say reports that did not respond honestly to widespread concerns, in effect, posed a threat to the nation’s social stability, leaving Chinese citizens more likely to place their faith in the country’s rumor mill than official documents they could not trust. Li’s misgivings appear to have only gained in resonance this year, as China’s recent summer of protest bears out.

Mapping disaster

(September 14, 2012) This spring, Probe International used the power of hazard mapping to assess the risks of China’s breakneck dam-building along its western rivers. Now, a new study published by the international scientific journal Tectonophysics discusses how flawed hazard maps may have underestimated such risks and been partly to blame for the devastation caused by the 2011 Japan, 2010 Haiti and 2008 China earthquakes.

Seismic signs

(September 5, 2012) Probe International has been at the forefront of research on the connection between seismic activity and large-dam construction, focusing on examples in China such as the Zipingpu Dam, which is thought to have triggered the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Now, a new article by U.S.-based quake warning advocate, David Nabhan, calls for a rethink of seismic forecasting in North America that draws on connections so often overlooked: specifically, the trigger effect of dams, and the impact of lunar and solar gravitational tides on earthquake activity.

Too many masters

(August 20, 2012) A severe test of the Three Gorges dam’s capacity to withstand a major flood peak in July initially showed the mighty dam ready and able. However, downstream areas found themselves at higher risk when floodwaters were released by the dam. Meanwhile, upstream areas are impacted when the dam holds floodwaters back. This article looks at the many pressures, and potential disasters, weighing on the ability of China’s biggest dam to fulfill its design mandate and asks: is July’s flood peak—the biggest test of the dam so far in its nine-year history—just the start?