The Chinese government is considering building a 38-GW hydroelectric project on the Brahmaputra River in the Himalayas. The dam at the Motuo bend of the river would produce 1½ times the power of China’s Three Gorges Dam, currently the world’s largest hydroelectric-generating station.
The dam is part of the Chinese government’s plan to more than double the country’s hydropower generation to 250,000 MW by 2020.
A total of 28 potential dams along the Yarlung Tsangpo, as the Tibetans call the river, were identified by Tashi Tsering, a Tibetan academic based at the University of British Columbia, Canada, who studies environmental policy. He broke the Motuo news by posting on his Tibetan Plateau blog a map of all the projects reported so far by Chinese newspapers and hydro-engineering websites. Ma Jiali, who works for the state-run Institute of Contemporary International Relations, says China has no plans to build such a dam.
Construction is expected to involve various technologies—tunnels, pipes, reservoirs and turbines—to take advantage the 2,000-meter drop in the river bend. China plans to build another five dams farther upstream, including a 500-MW hydroplant at Zangmu, which is already under construction by the power utility Huaneng.
It is estimated 200 million tons of carbon would be avoided annually once transmission lines within the remote highlands were connected to the rest of China’s power supply by Hydro China, a state-run power company.
The mega-project could affect downstream nations India and Bangladesh. The high-altitude, mountainous terrain poses another challenge. Peter Bosshard of International Rivers told The Guardian, “A large dam on the Tibetan plateau would amount to a major, irreversible experiment with geo-engineering.”