Laos has postponed construction of a controversial dam on the Mekong, an official said yesterday, dismissing fears that the work was going ahead despite growing regional opposition.
“There is no construction on the Mekong river,” Viraphonh Viravong, director-general of the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ department of electricity, said by telephone.
Thai company CH Karnchang announced last month that it had signed a contract worth US$2.4 billion with the Xayaburi Power Co “for the engineering, procurement and construction” of the Xayaburi hydroelectric power plant.
The firm said construction would take eight years and had commenced on March 15, sparking concern that the project was proceeding despite the concerns of countries lower down the Mekong River.
However, Viraphonh said only preparatory work had so far begun.
“Preliminary work like roads, accommodation and preparing for the power plant when the Lao government approves the project have been under way for a while now,” he said.
In December last year, the Mekong River Commission — composed of the governments of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam — said the dam project should not proceed until further studies on its impact were carried out.
“The Lao government will wait for the approval from the concerned countries,” said Viraphonh, adding that a new report on the expected impact had been submitted to Laos’ neighbors. “I’m confident that the new report will make them understand and the dam project can proceed.”
Cambodia and Vietnam fear the effects of the 1,260 megawatt Xayaburi dam on their farming and fishing industries. Thailand, however, has been more enthusiastic and has agreed to buy most of the electricity from the project.
Environmentalists have warned that damming the main stream of the waterway would trap vital nutrients, increase algae growth and prevent dozens of species of migratory fish swimming upstream to spawning grounds.
Vietnam said this week it would review a number of its own hydropower projects following the appearance of cracks in the major Song Tranh 2 dam.