Experts say Vietnam dam can cause 6.1-scale earthquakes; 'we'll have to pay'

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The building of Song Tranh 2, the largest hydropower dam in central Vietnam which has been linked to hundreds of tremors in the area, was a mistake, professors said in a study released Wednesday.

Dr Pham Tan Quynh from Vietnam National University-Hanoi, who inspected the dam and locality personally, said the VND4.15 trillion ($197.53 million) dam was built on a weak granite base that was prone to landslides and earthquakes.

"Song Tranh 2 dam was not put at the right place," he said.

He said the dam's walls lie on fault lines, increasing the chance of earthquakes in the area.

This was in addition to the increased pressure caused by absorption of water into the fault lines, which has been blamed by experts as the main cause of hundreds of small earthquakes in the area, he said.

Since the dam was completed in late 2011, residents in Bac Tra My District, Quang Nam Province, have slowly watched their houses crack due to hundreds of earthquakes, including at least 30 since early September, with the two biggest reaching a magnitude of 4.5 on the Richter scale.

Local communities are no in a virtual state of panick, with some replacing their cement homes with bamboo ones, in fear of collapse.

The study, started in April and led by Professor Cao Dinh Trieu, general secretary of the Vietnam Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, and seven other scientists in the field, said that the dam had increased the frequency of earthquakes in the area, and that the earthquakes have directly damaged the dam.

The research team found cracks and land sinking inside the dam.

"There's a very high risk that the dam could be destroyed, even if there are no more earthquakes," Quynh said.

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Dr Nguyen Truong Tien, chairman of the Vietnam Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, and a member of the research team, said "I can't imagine how the investor could choose such a spot to build the dam.

"We'll have to pay a terrible price for that."

The study said earthquakes in the area could reach the magnitude of 6.1.

"We need a plan for the worst-case scenario," said Trieu. "This is about people's lives."

The study's authors suggested that the dam should be studied further by foreign experts.

Its investor, state-owned monopoly Electricity of Vietnam, has been saying the dam can survive earthquakes and that nothing bad would happen. But it has also promised not to store water in the dam during the monsoon season this year.

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