By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai, www.telegraph.co.uk
China is set to build more than 750 hydroelectric power stations across Tibet to boost the region’s electricity supply.
China is determined to dam Tibet’s rivers and lakes despite concerns about the local environment and about the effect the projects will have on neighbouring countries.
Among others, Tibet is the source of the Yangtze, the Indus and the Brahmaputra rivers. Almost half the world’s population live in the irrigation basins of rivers that originate in Tibet.
In the last eight years, the Chinese government has invested 2.9 billion RMB (£244 million) in building hydroelectric power stations and it now wants to step up the pace of construction.
In the past, Tibetans have opposed many of the projects. In particular, the project to dam the holy Yamdrok Yumtso, or Scorpion Lake, which lies at 14,500 ft above sea level and is thought to contain the spirit of Tibet.
More than 1,500 members of the People’s Liberation Army now guard the lake, and no civilians are allowed near.
Chinese officials maintain, however, that the hydropower projects are the least environmentally-damaging way of electrifying the region and raising living standards. Wang Qinghua, the head of the regional power board, said over 1.9 million Tibetan residents, or 69 per cent of the population, now have access to electricity, a 400 per cent increase from the figure three decades ago.
The Longtan hydropower station in Nanning will come on line before the end of the year, according to Dai Bo, the general manager. Only the Three Gorges Dam and the unbuilt Xiluodu Dam project are bigger in size than the 4,900 megawatt Tibetan dam.
Longtan will cost around Pounds2.5 billion and is a key project for China’s western provinces, boasting the highest concrete dam in the world and the largest underground industrial complex.
More than 80,000 Tibetans were relocated so that it could be built on the upper reaches of the Hongshui river.
Two other major power stations have come online in the last year. The latest was a 40,000 kilowatt power station which started up at Gongbo’gyamda County in east Tibet two weeks ago.
Wang Lidong, director of the station’s construction, said it had cost 60 million and would ease power shortages in the area.