New dams planned for Tibet

By Richard High17 October 2008

The Chinese government has announced its intention to construct over 750 hydroelectric power stations across Tibet in an effort to boost the region's electricity supply, according to state news agencies.

The move comes despite environmental concerns that daming Tibet's rivers could prove an ecological disaster, with the effects being felt in neighbouring countries.

Tibet is the source of the Yangtze, Indus and Brahmaputra rivers and about half the world's population live in the irrigation basins of these and several other rivers that originate in Tibet.

The Chinese government is estimated to have invested CNY 2.9 billion (US$ 424 million) in building hydroelectric power stations.

In the past, Tibetan groups have opposed many of the projects, in particular efforts to dam the holy Yamdrok Yumtso, or Scorpion Lake, which is 4450 m above sea level and is thought to contain the spirit of Tibet.

At present over 1500 Chinese troops guard the lake, and no civilians are allowed near it.

According to Chinese officials, hydropower projects are the least environmentally-damaging way of electrifying the region and raising living standards.

Wang Qinghua, head of the regional power board, was quoted as saying over 1.9 million Tibetans, or 69% of the population, now have access to electricity, a +400% increase from the figure three decades ago.

The Longtan hydropower station in Nanning will come on line before the end of the year, according to Dai Bo, the general manager. Only the Three Gorges Dam and the unbuilt Xiluodu Dam project are bigger in size than the 4900 MW Tibetan dam.

Longtan will cost around US$ 4.33 billion and is a key project for China's western provinces, boasting the highest concrete dam in the world and the largest underground industrial complex.

More than 80000 Tibetans have been relocated to make way for its construction.

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