Dam collapse dents Laos’ “battery of Asia” ambitions

The collapse of a hydropower dam under construction by a South Korean company in southeastern Laos in the evening of July 23 is a big setback for the secretive country’s vision to become the main supplier of electricity for Southeast Asia through the construction and operation of a series of hydropower facilities along the country’s many rivers.

Hundreds of people have gone missing and several are feared dead after the huge Xepian-Xe Namnoy dam in Sanamxay district of Attapeu province near the city of Pakse and not far from the Cambodian border broke, causing flash flooding which swept away homes, cars and trees.

The reason for the incident is unclear. It followed heavy rain and flooding across southern Laos. So far, more than 6600 people have been made homeless, the Laos News agency reported.

Construction of the 410-MW dam began in 2013 and it was due to begin generating power next year. The $1.2-billion dam is part of a wider project by Pakse-based Xe Pian Xe Namnoy Power Company, or PNPC, a joint venture formed in 2012, to construct a series of dams over the Houay Makchanh, the Xe-Namnoy and the Xe-Pian rivers in neighbouring Champasak Province.

Among the companies involved in the project according to the Laos News Agency are Thailand’s Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding, South Korea’s Korea Western Power and state-run Lao Holding State Enterprise. The builder is SK Engineering & Construction from South Korea.

It planned to export 90 per cent of generated electricity to Thailand and the remaining amount was to be offered up on the local grid.

Hydroelectric ambitions in Laos are driven by the Communist government which has launched a large dam-building scheme in order generate and sell electricity to neighouring countries.

Laos sits on the Mekong River and its tributaries, which is a perfect location for hydropower dams. Currently, the country has around ten dams in operation, up to 20 under construction, and dozens more in planning stages. Furthermore, there are 39 hydroelectric power plants, and 53 more are being planned or built. By 2020, Laos also plans to build 54 more electricity transmission lines and 16 substations.

The country already exports two thirds of its hydropower, with electricity making up roughly 30 per cent of all Laotian exports

At the center of the “battery of Asia” vision stands a massive hydroelectric project at Xayaburi on the lower Mekong River, led by Thai group CH Karnchang. The 1,285-megawatt dam, which will cost $3.5 billion according to state media , has sharply divided downstream Mekong nations.

Environmentalists have repeatedly campaigned against the hydroelectric projects in Laos. The concerns of the groups over the environmental impact of the projects were hardened into a full-on international dispute in 2012 when neighbouring Cambodia and Vietnam lodged fierce objections to the construction of the Xayaburi dam which they said would severely impact fish stocks and do other harm to river life and biodiversity.

Other conflicts involving this dam were alleged human right abuses through the resettlement of villagers and destruction of agricultural land. Thai communities along the Mekong River and an international coalition of civil society groups from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam also lodged a complaint at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) against Austrian company Andritz, supplier of the dam’s huge turbines, alleging that the Xayaburi dam risks driving many already-impoverished families into even harsher poverty and malnutrition. This complaint initiated a mediation process, facilitated by the OECD.

 

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The collapse of a hydropower dam under construction by a South Korean company in southeastern Laos in the evening of July 23 is a big setback for the secretive country’s vision to become the main supplier of electricity for Southeast Asia through the construction and operation of a series of hydropower facilities along the country’s many rivers.

The collapse of a hydropower dam under construction by a South Korean company in southeastern Laos in the evening of July 23 is a big setback for the secretive country’s vision to become the main supplier of electricity for Southeast Asia through the construction and operation of a series of hydropower facilities along the country’s many rivers.

Hundreds of people have gone missing and several are feared dead after the huge Xepian-Xe Namnoy dam in Sanamxay district of Attapeu province near the city of Pakse and not far from the Cambodian border broke, causing flash flooding which swept away homes, cars and trees.

The reason for the incident is unclear. It followed heavy rain and flooding across southern Laos. So far, more than 6600 people have been made homeless, the Laos News agency reported.

Construction of the 410-MW dam began in 2013 and it was due to begin generating power next year. The $1.2-billion dam is part of a wider project by Pakse-based Xe Pian Xe Namnoy Power Company, or PNPC, a joint venture formed in 2012, to construct a series of dams over the Houay Makchanh, the Xe-Namnoy and the Xe-Pian rivers in neighbouring Champasak Province.

Among the companies involved in the project according to the Laos News Agency are Thailand’s Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding, South Korea’s Korea Western Power and state-run Lao Holding State Enterprise. The builder is SK Engineering & Construction from South Korea.

It planned to export 90 per cent of generated electricity to Thailand and the remaining amount was to be offered up on the local grid.

Hydroelectric ambitions in Laos are driven by the Communist government which has launched a large dam-building scheme in order generate and sell electricity to neighouring countries.

Laos sits on the Mekong River and its tributaries, which is a perfect location for hydropower dams. Currently, the country has around ten dams in operation, up to 20 under construction, and dozens more in planning stages. Furthermore, there are 39 hydroelectric power plants, and 53 more are being planned or built. By 2020, Laos also plans to build 54 more electricity transmission lines and 16 substations.

The country already exports two thirds of its hydropower, with electricity making up roughly 30 per cent of all Laotian exports

At the center of the “battery of Asia” vision stands a massive hydroelectric project at Xayaburi on the lower Mekong River, led by Thai group CH Karnchang. The 1,285-megawatt dam, which will cost $3.5 billion according to state media , has sharply divided downstream Mekong nations.

Environmentalists have repeatedly campaigned against the hydroelectric projects in Laos. The concerns of the groups over the environmental impact of the projects were hardened into a full-on international dispute in 2012 when neighbouring Cambodia and Vietnam lodged fierce objections to the construction of the Xayaburi dam which they said would severely impact fish stocks and do other harm to river life and biodiversity.

Other conflicts involving this dam were alleged human right abuses through the resettlement of villagers and destruction of agricultural land. Thai communities along the Mekong River and an international coalition of civil society groups from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam also lodged a complaint at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) against Austrian company Andritz, supplier of the dam’s huge turbines, alleging that the Xayaburi dam risks driving many already-impoverished families into even harsher poverty and malnutrition. This complaint initiated a mediation process, facilitated by the OECD.

 

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