Fears Dam Leak My Effect Safety in LAOS
Power officials in Laos moved to assure nervous residents Monday that a video showing the Nam Theun 1 dam leaking water depicted only “seepage” that would have no effect on operations or safety at the hydroelectric dam on a Mekong River tributary.
Video of the apparent leakage of the dam in Bolikhamxay province in central Laos was shared on Facebook on Saturday, a week before the fourth anniversary of the Southeast Asian country’s worst ever dam collapse that killed more than 70 people.
“A rumor has been circulating on social media since July 16, 2022, showing that this Nam Theun 1 Dam is leaking,” said an official of the Energy and Mines Department in Bolikhamxay province.
“Actually, it’s not leaking; It’s seeping. The water is not coming from the dam and not affecting the structure of the dam at all,” he said.
“Officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mines have come and inspected the seepage and found nothing wrong with the dam,” added the official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the dam.
Attempts by RFA Lao to contact the Nam Theun 1 Dam Power Company, the dam developer, received no response.
The company’s Facebook page, however, carried a statement from a company consultant who also dismissed safety concerns about the 650 MW dam, part of Laos’ plans to build dozens of hydropower dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia” by exporting the electricity to neighboring countries.
“The Nam Theun 1 Power Company received permission from the Lao government to fill up the dam reservoir on April 1, 2021, then in June 2022, seepage appeared on the right side of the concrete dam,” said consultant Bounyang Phengsouvanh.
“Our consultants have examined the seepage and confirmed that the seepage won’t have any impact on the dam. So, the Nam Theun 1 Dam is 100 percent safe and sound,” he said.
‘Worried and very concerned’
Surasri Kidtimonton, secretary of the The Office of National Water Resources in Thailand said the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), which is buying power from the Nam Theun 1 Dam, had received assurances from the builders.
“[EGAT] has been coordinating with the dam building company in Laos and is confirming to us that there won’t be any impact. The leak is not affecting the actual dam,” he said.
“A solution is that they must pour concrete cement into the leak or seepage passage,” added Kidtimonton.
Those assurances did not assuage residents near the dam in nearby Pakkading district, where the dam is located, who said they received no notice about the water.
“We’re worried and very concerned. We’re afraid that some kind of emergency or accident might be happening and affecting our livelihoods and our properties,” said a villager who lives less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the dam.
“I saw the news on Facebook. I haven’t seen any warning from the authorities. I’m hoping that nothing serious will happen,” said a second Pakkading resident
A third Pakkading resident echoed his neighbors, stating: “There has been no warning at all. That’s why many of us are panicking.”
He called on the company to send officials to address fearful residents.
“So far, they haven’t given us any explanation of what’s wrong with the dam. They haven’t said anything. Our folks here are in the dark knowing nothing about the safety of the dam.”
A teacher whose school is about 10 kilometers (six miles) from a tributary affected by the dam said the timing of he incident made it more frightening,
“This is very scary because it’s now close to July 23, 2022, the fourth anniversary of the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoi Dam break in Sanamxay District, Attapeu Province in southern Laos,” the teacher commented.
On the night of July 23, 2018, billions of cubic feet of water from a tributary of the Mekong River poured over a collapsed saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project following heavy rains in Laos’ Champassak province.
The disaster wiped out all or part of 19 villages, leaving 71 people dead and displacing 14,440 others.
An expert said the dam could need repair and could be dangerous if water eroded the concrete or surrounding soil.
“If the dam is filling up its reservoir for the first time, there might be some kind of leak as seen in the photo,” said Suttisak Soralump, president of the Thai Geotechnical Society and an associate professor of civil engineering at Kasetsart University in Thailand.
“To fix it, the dam might have to release the reservoir water to release the pressure, or pour cement into the mountain to stop the leak, fix the leak, and then refill the reservoir,” he added.
The Nam Theun 1 hydropower project is 60 percent funded by Phonesack Group, 25 percent by EGAT and 15 percent by Electricite du Laos. When complete, its 650 MW of output will be sold to neighboring Thailand.
Though the Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the landlocked country’s economy, the projects are controversial because of their environmental impact, displacement of villagers without adequate compensation, and questionable financial and power demand arrangements.