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National auditors express concern over dam project
By Cui Xiaohuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-21 07:51

Developers of a controversial Jinsha River dam said yesterday their practices were "orderly" in response to a report from the country's top auditors that said there were problems on the site of the world's third-largest hydropower project.

Safety issues emerged after the construction company cut its original building plan by 27 months to speed up the project, the National Audit Office said in its report released yesterday on the 67.5 billion yuan ($9.88 billion) Xiluodu project.

The quickened timeline increased the risks and difficulties and added to the cost, the audit office said.

The report also claimed the management team was not controlling its budget or its bidding procedures, and said the developers had collected nearly 10 million yuan worth of alleged illegal gains through fees.

But the developers of the dam, which is second only in size to the Three Gorges Dam, said yesterday the audit office "overrated the problem".

"They have exaggerated the problems a little. We have explained to the auditors before that we have run the project according to a long-term plan," Hong Wenhao, construction director of the Xiluodu dam project, told China Daily from the site, which borders Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in southwest China.

"The office said we have shortened 27 months of construction. Well, they have overrated our efficiency," he said.

"There will be no safety risks under our current working procedures because we do not allow any shortcuts when we build major projects, such as the near-300-m-tall dam."

Last month, the construction company raised the height of the dam from 278 m to 285.5 m to allow for design changes, making the dam 100 m taller than the Three Gorges Dam.

Hong said his construction team was about one year ahead of schedule. He said that was about the same as other major hydropower projects, including the Three Gorges Dam.

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Construction experts said the project was likely to be ready to accept water as early as 2013. By then, the annual generating capacity of the 95-story dam will be 64 billion kWh per year - equal to the entire hydropower capacity of Iceland.

"The engineering capabilities of these construction workers are sufficient to secure the dam's quality. They have shortened their construction plan but have not cut corners," said Jia Jinsheng, a senior hydropower researcher and the newly elected Secretary-General of the International Commission for Large Dams, an NGO that exchanges experience on dam engineering.

The Xiluodu project has been at the center of controversy before.

In 2005, the dam was found to have threatened rare fish species and failed an environmental impact assessment. China Three Gorges Project Corp, which runs the project along with several others in the region, paid a 200,000 yuan fine, the maximum penalty that could be issued, before environmental protection officials finally approved it.

As for now, though, there seem to be few worries among residents near the project.

"There is no concern for construction quality or environmental damage among our guys here," said Wang Yulin, Party chief of the Xinhua district in Xiluodu township, who lives near the project.

There are more than a dozen hydropower projects underway along the 2,300-km Jinsha River.

"Although there seems to be no immediate problems, for this extraordinarily-tall dam, both its construction quality and impact on local ecology are the essential concerns," said Ma Jun, a Beijing-based environmentalist.

Last month, the Ministry of Environmental Protection halted two State-run power giants' hydropower projects on the Jinsha River, the Ludila hydropower project and the Longkaikou project, after they failed to get the ministry's approval.

National auditors express concern over dam project

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