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Yunnan dam projects halted by environmental ministry

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China's Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) suspended approval for dams on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River last week, citing two of China's largest hydropower companies for illegally commencing construction on dam projects near Lijiang, according to a China Daily report.

According to the MEP, in January Huadian Power and Huaneng Power illegally blocked the middle reaches of the Jinsha River, as the upper reaches of the Yangtze are known, for the Ludila and Longkaikou dams, respectively.

MEP spokesman Tao Detian said that the two companies had failed to conduct environmental impact assessments, adding that both power producers had been ordered to cease building the dams immediately.

Some construction of the eight planned dams on the Jinsha – with a total projected cost of 200 billion yuan (US$29.3 billion) – may have been halted temporarily, but there is no indication that the dams have been permanently scrapped.

"For the approved projects, supplementary environmental reviews will be needed," Tao said.

If completed, the total installed capacity of the eight dams on the Jinsha would reach 20.59 gigawatts, just short of the capacity of the Three Gorges Dam further downstream. Of the eight dams, a dam at Jin'anqiao is already under construction, and the environmental impact assessment for a dam at Ahai was approved by MEP earlier this year.

Passing through Qinghai, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, the 2,300 kilometer Jinsha River flows through areas rich in biodiversity and inhabited by ethnic minority groups. It is also the source of much of the Yangtze's fish life, which would be greatly diminished if the planned dams were built.

This is not the first time that the central government has stopped proposed work on damming the Jinsha. At the end of 2007, a plan to dam and fill Tiger Leaping Gorge was scrapped after much public debate, a development which many consider to be the first major victory for China's nascent environmental movement.

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Great that the government at least is trying to put some weight against raging capitalism when it potentially can devastate the ecology and environment in 3 provinces. Doubt it is more than a short intermission on the other hand.

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