Xayaburi dam presents no risks to environment, Lao government

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-3-19 17:51:42

The Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited Xinhua and other foreign media to visit the construction site of the controversial Xayaburi dam being built on the Mekong River, which they claim will be overall positive for the environment and people who share the Mekong.

The tour on Friday and Saturday came in conjunction with the release of a report, as well as interviews with senior officials in the department and at the Xayaburi Power Company who are constructing the dam. Construction is being carried out at the site 24 hours a day, and will be able to continue all year long, despite changing river levels.

Construction of the dam started late last year and is now 10 percent complete, but it has been the source of concern for various environmental groups, NGOs, and governments. These groups have argued against the construction of the dam because of a perceived potential for a negative impact on the migratory paths for the Mekong's many fish species and the impacts on sediment flows down the river which provide fertile soil for agriculture along the river.

The Lao government and the Xayaburi Power Company argued that the environmental concerns raised by various group and neighboring countries will be mitigated via several technological innovations.

In the report titled Xayaburi Run-of-River Hydroelectric Power Project, the claim is made that the potential impact on sediment flows will be mitigated by the use of a low barrage and a design and operational pattern allowing sediment flow through the pondage.

The report argues that a fish-pass system will be included in the dam that will permit "passage in up and downstream directions for all breeds of river fish. Its width is large enough to accommodate passage also of big fish. The fish will be attracted by the flows created by the system; they will follow them and swim in upstream direction."

Others have argued that the impact of the dam on the Mekong has not been sufficiently studied, especially given limited knowledge of the way various species of fish may interact with a fish-pass system.

Deputy Managing Director of Xayaburi Power Rewat Suwanakitti told Xinhua on Saturday that the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam now supported the construction of the dam, "...we redesigned the spillway, fish passage system, and that nearly one hundred percent of sediment can pass through the dam. Now both governments (of Cambodia and Vietnam) understand clearly and support our project."

The Xayaburi Power Company is a subsidiary of the Thai company Ch. Karnchang Public Company who are leading contractors on the Xayaburi site.


In the Mekong, which is the tenth longest waterway with the second highest biodiversity in the world, there are around 229 species that live upstream of the Xayaburi site, 70 of which are migratory. The river passes through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Laos, one of Southeast Asia's least developed nations, is making a major push into the hydropower industry with 23 dams currently in operation generating around 3,000 MW of electricity. A further 33 dams are in the construction or at the planning stage across the country with an expected completion before 2018, and an expected output of around 6,000 MW. Of these proposed dams, a further four are planning on the Mekong.

Chief of the Energy Business Division of the Ministry of Energy and Mines Somphith Keovichith identified the benefits for the country in building the dam in an exclusive interview with Xinhua, "After the dam, it will be more convenient to deliver things by ship as we can take over 500 metric tons of cargo from the north to the south of the country."

Keovichith said the Lao government would get a direct return from the dam of 20 percent of profits via royalties and taxes, as well as $135 million per year on concession for 29 years. In total, it will be almost $4,000 million. After 29 years the site will revert to full ownership by the Lao government.

Suwanakitti told Xinhua that the budget for the project was, "$3, 500 million, 30 percent of which was provided by the developer and 70 percent borrowed from a bank in Thailand." Thai electricity utilities company, EGAT, has agreed to purchase 95 percent of the electricity generated at the dam.

Keovichith said that the local area may also benefit from an increasing number of tourists to the site, as people may be interested in seeing the dam, like those visiting the Three Gorges Dam in China. The construction will also employ over 10,000 people, some of whom will come from areas around the dam.

Keovichith said he expected the construction to be completed by 2019, when a great deal of engineering expertise would have been gained for future projects.

The employees on the dam are primarily Lao, according to Suwanakitti. "When we have no Lao people for a position we order from Thailand. But this project is very big, not just Lao or Thai. We have people from many countries."

As for the people who have been moved from the area as their traditional homes would be flooded after the dam was finished, Keovichith said, they are being provided with better access to resources such as transport, power, education, and healthcare.

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