The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) this month greenlighted a massive hydroelectric project on the Yarlung Zangbo River in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, raising concerns about possible environmental impacts. out.
The project is currently documented in the 14th Five-Year Plan of the CCP and in the party’s long-term goals until 2035, after the country’s annual rubber stamped congressional meeting, the People’s Congress. National Population (NPC).
A source close to the project’s design told CCP-run Global Times report that the project will take the form of a chain of power plants.
The newspaper quoted Yan Zhiyong, chairman of China Electric Construction Corporation, or POWERCHINA, as saying that the Yarlung Zangbo River project could provide 300 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of clean, renewable and carbon-free electricity annually.
But Indian scientists have warned that hydropower projects could lead to dire consequences, citing the collapse of the Nanda Devi glacier in Uttarakhand in February 2021.
About 150 workers at two hydroelectric dams in Tapovan-Reni have gone missing, presumed dead, after being swept away in fast flowing water, the power plant and surrounding houses destroyed. completely.
German engineer Wang Weiluo said China should learn a lesson from India about the dangers of hydroelectric dams in the Himalayas, where seismic changes to the ecosystem are expected. glaciers in the next few decades.
“As the Indian scientists have said, there are two issues that deserve attention,” Wang told RFA. “The first is that glaciers collapse during the coldest part of the year, although glaciers are prone to collapse or break in the summer and fall.”
“The second is that there is a link between the increase [water] temperature [leading to meltwater build-up] and a large number of hydroelectric dams have been built on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, “he said.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is home to the Hindu Kush-Himalaya Ice Sheet, an area known as the Third Pole.
It contains about 15% of the world’s snow and ice, the largest amount outside the Arctic and Antarctic, but has seen a significant contraction in recent years as it absorbs energy due to global warming.
The whole area is not stable
Wang Chung-ho, a researcher at the Institute of Earth Science at Academia Sinica in Taiwan, said the entire region is currently unstable due to global warming, making glacial-related disasters possible. more likely to happen in the future.
“Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding at a rate of 10 to 15 meters per year,” said Wang Chung-ho. “The amount of melting ice has doubled in the last 20 years compared with 20 years ago.”
“As glaciers melt and disappear, the surrounding population will also increase, with hundreds of millions of people in India, China, Nepal and other countries facing dangerous water shortages,” he said. dangerous.
He said glaciers on Mount Everest and surrounding areas have shrunk by 13% in the past 50 years, and the snow path has increased by nearly 200 meters.
Wang Weiluo said Tibet had to experience the effects of the global heating system.
“In 2016, there were two glacial collapses in the Ngari region of Tibet on the northern slopes of the Himalayas, and a much larger scale than the incident in India.” he say. “And the glaciers in the Ngari region are considered by Chinese scientists to be the most stable.”
Earlier this year, the Chinese Academy of Sciences published a study in the international journal “The Cryosphere” stating that the collapse of the Ngari glacier had released 150 million cubic meters of ice and water into lower areas. saved between 2016 and 2019, increasing the water level in Lake Manasarovar by 23 percent.
“As glaciers melt, more glacial lakes will appear downstream,” predicted Wang Chung-ho. “New glaciers will be formed, and the area of existing glaciers will expand.”
He said that international experts used satellite imagery to analyze the Himalayan regions near the borders of China, Nepal and India, and found 3,624 glacial lakes, of which 47 are considered critically endangered. dangerous.
“They are very likely to break their banks and cause floods in the downstream areas. They are disasters waiting to happen,” Wang Chung-ho said.
Great threat to dams
Glaciers and lake spills pose a major threat to hydroelectric dams, Wang Weiluo said.
“Many reservoirs in Tibet are located just downstream of glaciers and they rely on glacial flowing water,” he said. “The Manla Reservoir on the Nianchu River, a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo River, has about 83 glaciers upstream, a total of 130 square kilometers.”
He said a glacier slipped into the river valley in 1954, causing “many casualties”.
“The speed and energy of the glacier slide down much more strongly than any flood that causes dam failure,” said Wang Weiluo.
He said the pace of reservoir and dam construction in the region is still very frenetic, with 100 small reservoirs, 11 medium-sized reservoirs and 10 large-scale reservoirs in high-risk areas.
Despite the risks, China’s State Development and Reform Commission has vowed to promote hydropower development in the lower Yarlung Zangbo River, a project that will have a capacity three times the capacity of the Three Gorges hydroelectric project. giant and controversial on the Yangtze River.
Wang Weiluo also cited fragile ecosystems and seismic instability in the region as good reasons for not pushing the project ahead in the face of possible opposition from India, a country such as Bangladesh, calling Yarlung Zangbo the Brahmaputra River.
China has built two hydroelectric dams on the Zangmu River, he said. In addition, the construction of the hydroelectric plant on the Kim Sa River as well as several hydroelectric dams on the Lancang River are underway.
He said the 14th Five-Year Plan also includes plans to develop the Nu River in Tibet, the only river that still has no dams on it.
The dilution rate is doubled
Meanwhile, Wang Chung-ho said the sheer power and energy of glacier bursts and collapses exceeded maximum safety specifications for currently operating dams.
In June 2019, research published by Columbia University and the University of Utah found that the rate at which glaciers in the Himalayas thinner doubled between 2000 and 2016, from 0.25 meters a year. up 0.5 meters per year.
At this rate, there will be no glaciers left in the Himalayas by the end of the century, Wang Weiluo said.
Chinese scientists have also concluded that the Qinghai-Tibet plateau is warming twice as fast as glaciers in other parts of the world, he said.
Although melting of glaciers will initially increase the water level in lakes and rivers, this process is unsustainable and will eventually lead to a dry riverbed, Wang Weiluo said.
Wang Chung-ho quoted climate scientists as saying that the Earth has absorbed the energy from global warming equivalent to five atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima every second since the Industrial Revolution.
“These are alarming and frightening numbers,” he said.
Mai Xiaotian’s Report to RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.