Vietnam agencies say dam not dangerous, despite cracks

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Inspectors from the construction ministry and the central province of Quang Nam Wednesday said cracks at a provincial hydropower dam do not pose safety risks as being concerned by locals.

At a meeting with provincial authorities and the Song Tranh 2 hydropower plant's investor that day, Bui Trung Dung, chief inspector of the Ministry of Construction, said the cracks, some of which are several millimeters long, are not remarkable, and the dam is operating safely in accordance with its design.

"It is not necessary to decrease the reservoir's water level to fix these technical faults," Dung stressed.

However, he criticized the investor, the Hydropower Plant Management Board 2, which belongs to the state utility Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), for being tardy in its response to public concerns over the cracks.

Earlier Dung led a delegation of inspectors from the ministry and Quang Nam to inspect the situation after locals from Bac Tra My District had voiced their concerns, saying that the cracks have allowed water to leak, and speculating that they were related to continuous tremors which have shaken the district since 2010.

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However, also on Wednesday, EVN Deputy Director General Tran Van Duoc sent a letter to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the provincial authorities and the state committee on monitoring public works, saying that water was not leaking, though several places around the dam's heat slits were soaked.

In their conclusions, Quang Nam's agencies also said they found six drenched areas, adding that water was leaking at a rate of 30 liters per second, which is "acceptable."

The EVN said it will fix the problem by checking and fixing the system of collecting excess water. If this does not work, it will consider implementing more measures to stop the soaking, it added.

Meanwhile, the Song Tranh 2 hydropower plant's investor said that workers are fixing the problem to prevent water from leaking from the heat slits, adding that such a procedure was part of regular "maintenance" for the dam.

"˜Unacceptable'

On the other hand, Le Tri Tap, former chairman of Quang Nam's People's Committee and also an experienced hydrologic engineer, said in an interview with Thanh Nien that the investor's explanation is "unacceptable."

According to Tap, it is abnormal that water would soak through heat slits, stressing that the work's structure must have defects.

He also criticized the plant management board's solution which is to add chemicals to decrease the rate of saturation, saying it will not be effective.

"What we need to do now is decrease the water level as soon as possible. ["¦] If any problem happens from the leaking, it will truly be a disaster," Tap said.

The former official also said he was "surprised" by the reactions of agencies, stressing that the Ministry of Industry and Trade should have sent a delegation of scientists and other experts to inspect the dam.

"It is a national work, so it is unacceptable to let a local government or a business handle the problem by themselves."

With an investment of more than VND4.15 trillion (US$197.53 million), the Song Tranh 2 Hydropower Plant boasts the largest reservoir in the central region with a capacity of some 730 million cubic meters. It began operating in December 2010 with an expected output of 190 megawatts.

However, since opening, the plant has continuously made headlines. 

In January the Vietnam Academy of Science Technology concluded that the dam had caused underground explosions and minor earthquakes in Bac Tra My District. The academy said the phenomenon would stop when the dam's operation was stabilized.

But the tremors have not ceased and the investor has yet to establish earthquake observation stations as the academy requested, local officials said.

Last October, along with other hydropower plants in the region, Song Tranh 2 was criticized for increasing the danger of prospective floods by releasing water from their reservoirs.

Floods in the area killed 24 people during that time.

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