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Ministry suspends key projects
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The fate of a 200-billion yuan investment in eight hydropower stations along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River is in question, as the national environmental watchdog has blocked it citing environmental concerns.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) yesterday suspended approval for hydropower projects along the middle reaches of Jinsha River, after finding that two dams had been illegally constructed on it.

The Ludila hydropower project by Huadian Power, and the Longkaikou project by Huaneng Power, both located in Lijiang, Yunnan province, blocked the river for the construction effort in January, without reviewing their environmental impact, Tao Detian, the ministry's spokesman said.

The MEP has ordered the country's two largest power producers to stop building the dams immediately and ensure the safety of cofferdams in the coming flood season.

Building dams without proper designs and environmental protection measures would damage the water ecology, both upriver and downriver, as well as negatively impact local communities, Tao said.

The MEP said it would further debate the environmental and ecological risks of building hydropower stations along the river. "Before that, the MEP will not approve any new hydro projects," he said. "For the approved projects, supplementary environmental reviews will be needed."

Jinsha River, the 2,300 km section of the Yangtze River from Yushu in Qinghai province to Yibin in Sichuan, is rich in hydropower resources and home to diverse ethnic minority groups as well as some of China's most important biodiversity hot spots.

A string of eight hydropower projects have been planned for the middle reaches of the Jinsha River, or the 564 km section in Yunnan province. With a budget of 200 billion yuan, the total installed capacity is expected to touch 20.58 gW, about the same as the massive Three Gorges dam hydropower project.

Among the cascading hydropower works, Jin'anqiao dam is already getting built, and the environment impact assessment of the A'hai project had won approval from the MEP earlier this year.

The plan for the first of the cascading projects, a hydropower plant at Tiger Leaping Gorge, was suspended as a result of public disputes in 2005.

"The hydropower resource along the Jinsha River is already being over exploited, which will damage the ecological security in the region." said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Jinsha River pools the most precious fish species of the Yangtze, said Ma, and building cascading hydropower works will lead to irreversible loss of aquatic biodiversity.

"All the available mitigation measures, such as artificial breeding, will not be able to eliminate the damage," Ma said.

(China Daily June 12, 2009)

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