A giant dam that would produce three times more electricity than that of the Three Gorges, the current world record … China plans to build a megastructure in Tibet across the Brahmaputra, which worries environmentalists as well as the Indian neighbor .
The scene takes place at an altitude of over 1,500 meters, in the canyon which is both the longest and the deepest in the world. Bypassing an imposing Himalayan massif, the river draws a bend before turning southwest towards India then Bangladesh, where it flows into the Ganges and finally into the sea.
It is across this bend, in Medog County, that China plans to build a colossal structure that would ridicule its own world record, the Three Gorges of the Yangtze Dam, with a capacity of ” only »22.5 million kilowatts.
The five-year plan (2021-25) adopted in early March by the Chinese Parliament provides for “building a hydroelectric base in the lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo”, the Tibetan name of the Brahmaputra.
No budget, no schedule, let alone technical details.
Far upstream, the river is already blocked by two installations, while six others are in the pipeline or under construction.
But the “Super-dam” would have a whole other dimension.
Last October, the Tibet region signed a “strategic cooperation agreement” with Powerchina, a public construction company specializing in hydroelectric projects.
At the end of November, the boss of Powerchina, Yan Zhiyong, unveiled part of the project to the League of Communist Youth.
Enthusiastic about “the richest region in the world in hydroelectric resources,” he explained that the Brahmaputra bend had theoretical capacities of nearly 70 million kilowatts – more than three times the Three Gorges.
“Very bad idea”
If for Beijing, the project would be justified in the name of the fight against fossil fuels, it risks arousing strong opposition from environmental movements, like the Three Gorges Dam, built between 1994 and 2012 in the center of the country.
The work resulted in the creation of a huge reservoir and the displacement of 1.4 million people upstream.
“Building an infrastructure the size of the Super-Dam is probably a very bad idea for a lot of reasons,” protested Brian Eyler, director of the Water, Energy and Sustainability program at the US think tank Stimson Center.
Besides the area is known for its seismic activity, it is also home to unique biodiversity. The dam would stop the migration of fish as well as the flow of sediments that enrich the land during seasonal floods downstream, he notes.
In a region under stress, the ecological risk is coupled with a political dimension, as underlined by Zamlha Tempa Gyaltsen, specialist in environmental issues at the Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank attached to the Tibetan government in exile in India around the Dalai llama.
“We have a rich Tibetan cultural heritage in this area and the construction of any dam would cause ecological destruction and submersion of part of the region,” he told the AFP.
“Many inhabitants should leave their ancestral lands”, he points out, saying that he fears the immigration of Chinese workers which would become permanent.
But less than a year after a deadly clash in the Himalayas between Indian and Chinese soldiers, it is in New Delhi that the project worries the most.
By virtue of its presence in Tibet, the Communist regime is sitting on a veritable water tower watering a large part of Asia.
“The water war is a crucial component of this (Chinese) aggression because it allows China to use its Tibetan power upstream on an essential resource,” stormed political scientist Brahma Chellaney last month, in the daily Times of India.
As for the seismic risk, it would make this project “a time bomb” for residents downstream, he warned.
Reacting to the Chinese project, the Indian government has put forward the idea of in turn building a dam on the Brahmaputra, in order to constitute its own water reserve.
“There is still a lot of time to negotiate with China,” reassures Brian Eyler. “A bad result would be to see India build a dam downstream.”