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6 July 2012 Last updated at 10:11 ET
Laos will not press ahead with the construction of a controversial dam on the Mekong river until environmental issues have been resolved, state-run media report.
The government says two big issues – fish migration and sediment flow – will be addressed, the Vientiane Times says.
Critics say the hydro-electric dam project at Xayaburi would harm the river’s eco-system.
Environmentalists say work has already began on the project.
“We plan to invite development partners and Mekong River Commission [MRC] member countries to visit the project site so they can see the actual development for themselves,” Viraphonh Viravong, Laos deputy minister of energy and mines, was quoted by the Vientiane Times as saying.
“The Xayaboury project will develop one of the most transparent and modern dams in the world,” he said, adding that the government had hired two independent consultants to review the project.
He said that changes were being planned to make sure that most of the fish would be able to pass through the dam.
In April, a multi-billion dollar contract was signed for a Thai company, CH Karnchang, to build the dam.
But critics fear the Xayaburi dam and power station project would open the door to a building spree, degrading the Mekong’s fragile ecology and associated fishing industries.
The Lao government had earlier said it had not decided whether to go ahead with damming the Mekong.
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Laos will not undertake any construction of the Xayaboury dam in the mainstream Mekong River until it has addressed all concerns over the possible impacts of the country’s largest hydropower plant.
“We plan to invite development partners and Mekong River Commission (MRC) member countries to visit the project site so they can see the actual development for themselves,” Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Mr Viraphonh Viravong said in an exclusive interview with Vientiane Times yesterday.
“The Xayaboury project will develop one of the most transparent and modern dams in the world,” he added.
Mr Viraphonh said there are two major issues – fish migration and sediment flow – which neighbouring countries and environmentalists have expressed concern over and want the government to address before building the first dam in the lower Mekong basin.
He said the Lao government had hired two independent international consultants to review the project design, with the aim of convincing neighbouring countries that there is no cross-border environmental impact.
The independent consultants, Poyry and Companie Nationale du Rhone, have advised the government to modify the dam, which will be equipped with comprehensive fish passage facilities to ensure that 85 percent of fish can pass through the dam in accordance with MRC guidelines.
The consultants also advised that the dam must be equipped with a sediment flushing system, to ensure the flushing through of all sediments, which are an essential component of aquatic feed and fertiliser, Mr Viraphonh said. Once the government is convinced that it has addressed all the concerns of neighbouring countries and development partners, the project will revert to its normal construction schedule, he added.
He said the Lao government had kept its promise not to undertake construction in the mainstream river. However, he said geological sub-surface investigations were being carried out in the Mekong River.
“The project developer is drilling rocks in the Mekong River for study,” he said, adding that the work is part of the hydropower plant detail re-designing process. The geological investigations should not harm the river in any way, nor pose any threat to people who live along the Mekong downstream, so Mekong member countries and environmentalist groups should not worry about the project development impact.
Mr Viraphonh said the developer has built roads and other facilities near the planned dam site, adding that these are on land and should not have any negative impact on the Mekong downstream.
He said people who lived in the area were happy that roads were being built and they could benefit from improved public infrastructure.
He re-iterated the fact that, although the government has completed the Prior Consultation process in accordance with the 1995 MRC requirements, it has not started any construction work in the mainstream river.
By Times Reporters
(Latest Update July 06, 2012)
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