Laos on Monday said it would start construction of a controversial multi-billion dollar hydropower dam this week, after adapting the design to calm environmental concerns from neighbouring nations.
“After two years of preparation the Lao government will have a ground-breaking ceremony on November 7 and will then start working on the dam itself on the Mekong river this week,” deputy energy minister Viraphon Viravong said.
The US$3.8 billion hydroelectric project in Xayaburi province, in the country’s northeast, led by Thai group CH Karnchang, sharply divided the four Mekong nations – Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand – who rely on the river system for fish and irrigation.
Building work on the main project has been stalled for about 18 months over concerns about its environmental impact.
Viraphon said some aspects of the dam’s design had been changed to “reassure neighbouring countries”, but he insisted that objections would not derail plans to finish the project by the end of 2019.
The mooted 1,260 megawatt dam, the first of 11 on the key waterway, has become a symbol of the potential risks of hydropower projects in the region.
Communist Laos, one the most world’s under-developed nations, believes the dam, which will join those already built on the Mekong’s tributaries, will help it become “the battery of Southeast Asia” by selling electricity to its richer neighbours.