Hydropower development in Tibet is fraught with huge risks because of the danger of major earthquakes. What’s more, the projects might not be needed, say experts
Although the precise picture is still unclear, it’s likely that Nepal’s huge earthquake last month has wreaked major damage to a dozen hydroelectric projects in Nepal.
This should sound a shrill warning for projects across the border in Tibet, an area also traversed by highly active seismic faults.
Besides the risks to existing and future hydroprojects in Tibet, centred mainly along the Yarlung Tsangpo river (known as the Brahmaputra once it reaches India), there is little evidence that the dams are actually needed, says Fan Xiao, geologist and chief engineer of the Regional Geological Survey Team of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau.
Fan told thethirdpole.net that the region doesn’t have the population, the economy, or necessary demand for electricity. Although the power generated could be sold to the rest of China, or to neighbouring India and Nepal, the economics of the projects are compromised by the high cost of transmitting the power, much of which would be wasted, given the distances involved.
Add to that the damage to Tibet’s geology, environment and social structures, and the cons outweigh the pros, Fan adds.
The Three Gorges Corporation website said on May 5 that the hydroelectric industry’s most important conference – the World Hydropower Congress – would be held in China this year, due to the incredible growth of the sector in the country.
According to statistics published by the China Electricity Council in March, China now has more than 300 gigawatts (GW) of hydropower generating capacity – far more than any other nation.