China Grants Permission for 21.3 GW Dam System to be Built Along World Heritage Site

nu river china photo

Nu river; Photo by livepine via Flickr Creative Commons

China's hydropower industry has earned a big win with power company Huadian gaining permission to build a 21.3GW dam on the Nu River. However, is the price too big? The dam is to be built in a world heritage site and will displace an estimated 50,000 people. For a country working to get bigger faster, a power plant of this size is an important building block -- yet the loss of habitat and homes has stirred up significant controversy over the plans.

The Guardian reports that the company will build a cascade of 13 hydropower plants along the middle and lower sections of a river that has forged one of the most scenic canyons in the country, which has been called the "Grand Canyon of the Orient." The plans were suspended in 2004, reconfirmed in 2009, and now permission has been granted to move forward.

"We believe the Nu River can be developed and we hope that progress can be made during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015)," Shi Lishan, the deputy director of new energy at the National Energy Administration, told Chinese national radio.

However, that development threatens over 80 endangered species, including snow leopards and snub-nosed monkeys, and the water source for Burma and Thailand. But the lobbying efforts of one of the country's largest hydropower companies won out on the grounds that more carbon-neutral power is needed for the country.

This is just one of many controversial dam projects in China. According to International Rivers, the Nu River is one of China's last free-flowing rivers, and "flows through China's Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site, an area known as the epicenter of Chinese biodiversity." How this will impact the humans and other species that call Nu River home is yet to be seen.

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