Dastardly deception

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  A man in Bac Tra My District, the central province of Quang Nam, builds a house with bamboo for fear that earthquakes induced by the nearby Song Tranh 2 hydropower dam will collapse his current house one day. The district has been repeatedly hit by quakes since the dam started operating in November, 2010. Photo: Hoang Son

Residents of Bac Tra My District in the central province of Quang Nam have been living in terror for a year now.

They have every reason to be terrified, having to contend day after day with quake after quake, including one that was as big as 4.8 on the Richter scale.

And the reason for these quakes, the Song Tranh 2 Hydropower Dam, is not going to pack up and leave.

But there is something even more shocking.

The residents now realize that all this time they have been deceived by scientists and experts.

At a press conference held last Friday, the design consultant of the troubled dam admitted that they had never really taken into consideration the chances that its operation would induce earthquakes.

Nguyen Tai Son, director general of Electricity Construction Consultant 1 Joint-stock Company, said due to the lack of experience, their 2005 report on the dam's environmental impact assessment had just "quoted the opinions of Dr. Le Tran Chan."

The "quoted opinions" came from a report that Chan, former head of Vietnam Geophysics Institute, presented at a conference in 1998. He said his report was written after he had synthesized various foreign and national materials, so it did not refer to any particular dam.

Even though the report concluded that dams with the capacity of one billion cubic meters were likely to induce quakes, it did not mean that Song Tranh 2, whose capacity was 730 million cubic meters, would totally stand no chance, because it depended much on each area's geographic features, Chan said.

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Son's confession was like a slap in the face of the representatives of the state monopoly Electricity of Vietnam, who were present at the conference. The investor, relying on the report, had been consistently stressing that the dam was safe when questioned by authorities and the media.

"Quang Nam authorities and people have to trust scientists and the results they arrived at in studies and assessments of Song Tranh 2," Luu The Bieu, deputy chief of EVN's construction management board, said at a meeting with local authorities on September 12.

After this, the bitter, horrifying truth that the people of Bac Tra face is this: experts and scientists of the consultancy firm showed scant or no regard for the residents' lives.

When preparing the report, were the people who call themselves experts and scientists thinking about the fact that what they wrote would not only guide the project but also affect the whole area? Had they done their job more sincerely and properly, the local people and authorities would have not been in the situation of staying up all night watching out for rumbles or explosions or tremors.

People were told to trust scientists, because their conclusions were "the truth," as Bieu put it. But, now who should they put their trust in, after realizing how they were deceived by this "scientific" report?

Even Le Tri Tap, former chairman of Quang Nam's People's Committee who has worked in the field of irrigation for many years, said: "I'm really confused, wondering if I should trust scientists because what they said was not consistent.

"With the lives of thousands of people at stake, I earnestly beg the scientists to be honest, objective and very accurate when making estimates on Song Tranh's seismic impacts."

This is not Tap's wish, but that of all residents of Bac Tra My.

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