HONG KONG – Hundreds of people were missing on Tuesday after a billion-dollar hydroelectric dam in Laos collapsed, killing several people and driving more than 6,600 people out, a state news agency reported
The official news agency Lao reported that Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower plant collapsed at 8 pm On Monday, five billion cubic meters of water will be released and houses in the southern province of Attapeu, which is located on the border with Vietnam and Cambodia, swept away. The agency did not report an exact death.
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos later suspended a scheduled government meeting and led members of his cabinet to oversee the rescue and relief efforts around the collapsed dam, the agency reported Tuesday [1
The 410 megawatt dam was built by the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company, a joint venture between a state-owned Laotian company and several other companies, said the KPL agency. Construction of the dam began in 2013, five years after completing a feasibility study, KPL reported.
The dam should go into operation in 2019 and generate approximately 1,879 gigawatt hours of electricity per year, the Xe-Pian Xe -Namnoy Power Company says on its website. Ninety percent of the electricity would be sold to neighboring Thailand and the other ten percent in Laos, the company says.
The Xe-Pian Xe Namnoy Dam, which collapsed on Monday, was supposed to generate electricity from diverted water from three rivers – the Houay Makchanh, the Xe-Namnoy and the Xe-Pian – in the southern Laos province of Champasack. The Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company says on their website that the water from the project would flow into the Xe Kong River before flowing into the Mekong River.
Hydropower dams are an important energy source in Laos and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. But they are also controversial, partly because they often displace poor rural people and have serious consequences for fisheries and water catchment areas.
Last year, the US government-funded news channel Radio Free Asia reported that more than 100 families in three villages near the dam faced forced eviction. R.F.A. quoted an unidentified resident as saying that the villagers did not want to move to the country that the Lao government had offered as compensation, which in their opinion was not suitable for agriculture
In a letter from 2013 to Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company, the International Rivers Interest Group, said its employees had visited the dam's relocation zone and had seen firsthand that people there were "struggling with lack of access to sufficient food, water and land"  In addition, families have found that the flat ground around their homes is unsuitable for growing vegetables, fruit, or staples, and they consistently confirm they are hungry, "the letter said.
For years, one of the most controversial hydropower projects was the Region of the Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong in northern Laos.
Thailand is said to cover almost the entire stream of Xayab buy uri dam, and the government of Laos announced in 2012 that it would go on with the project that it would generate billions of dollars in revenue.
But scientists have long worried that the Xayaburi Dam would disrupt spawning patterns and lead to the extinction of many fish species, a major source of protein for millions of people along the Mekong. They also fear that it would encourage developers to continue with other projects along the river that flows from Laos to Cambodia and Vietnam.
The joint venture behind the dam, which collapsed, includes a company from Thailand – Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding – and two from South Korea: SK E & C and Korea Western Power Company
SK E & C is a subsidiary of SK Group, one of the largest South Korean business conglomerates. SK E & C has built power plants at home and abroad. Company officials could not be reached for comment immediately on Tuesday.
The Korea Western Power Company operates a network of power plants in South Korea that burns coal, oil and liquefied natural gas for power generation. It has also helped build and operate power plants in India, Indonesia and other countries. The company has negotiated a contract to build and operate another hydroelectric dam in Laos, in addition to the one that collapsed this week.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Korea Western Power said by phone that his role in the consortium was behind it. The Laos dam was to operate and run the power plant after completion. The spokesman, who did not want to give his name, said the company had not been involved in the construction and had received no immediate comment on Monday.
Choe Sang-Hun reported reporting from Seoul, South Korea.