Nam Theun 2 Project Viability in Question: Plans Based on Inadequate Hydrologic Data

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International Rivers
Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A technical review for the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project in Laos has found that the analysis of hydrologic data for the project is so deficient that it is impossible to predict how much water is available for power generation.

The review, conducted by two professional hydrologists, examined the project’s Environmental Assessment and Management Plan and supporting data.

The reviewers found that the lack of long–term stream flow and rain flow monitoring, coupled with questionable statistical analysis techniques, makes the project "high risk for meeting its power generation predictions and for estimating potential project impacts". In addition, the project developers have undertaken no analysis of how global climate change might affect flows in the Theun River.

"The paucity of hydrologic data and analysis calls into question the economic viability of the entire project. In addition, the project could have far more serious impacts for people living downstream if river flows have been incorrectly estimated. This is unacceptable for a project of the scope and size of Nam Theun 2," says Aviva Imhof, East and Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers.

The reviewers found that the project developers have also failed to examine how increased water flows will affect the upper and middle reaches of the Xe Bang Fai River, the river to which Nam Theun 2’s water will be diverted. This is of concern as more than 7,600 people live along this stretch of the Xe Bang Fai and will be seriously affected by increased flooding and erosion, as well as fisheries losses and other impacts.

The reviewers also stated that project sponsors have not released critical information, making it "impossible" to conduct robust independent analysis of the project’s performance and its environmental consequences. Several detailed hydrological studies have not been released, and the EAMP itself contains no hydrologic analysis.

The review is the first in a series of technical reviews commissioned by International Rivers and Environmental Defense looking at the project’s safeguard documents. Further reviews on the resettlement plan, the plan for compensating villagers along the Xe Bang Fai, and the watershed management plan will be released in the coming weeks.

The $1.3 billion Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project would forcibly displace 6,000 indigenous people and impact more than 100,000 villagers who depend on the Xe Bang Fai River for fish, agriculture and other aspects of their livelihood. The project is being developed by Electricité de France and two Thai companies in cooperation with the Lao government and will generate foreign exchange for Laos by selling the power to Thailand. The World Bank will make a decision on whether to support the project in the coming months.

The full review is available

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