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Dam in Northeast Built on Earthquake Site, Study Finds

Local workers adjust stones at a dam construction site by China National Heavy Machinery Corporation on the Tatay River in Koh Kong province, some 210 kilometers (130 miles) west of Phnom Penh.
PHNOM PENH - Experts are recommending that a proposed dam on the Sesan River in northeast Cambodia be equipped with earthquake protection measures, after discovering a quake occurred in the area some 30 years ago.

The proposed Lower Sesan II dam would be situated on a site in Stung Treng province that saw a 5.2 magnitude quake in 1978, according to a recent impact study, and a similar eruption could happen again, said Meach Mean, a Cambodia coordinator for the 3S Rivers Protection Network, an environmental group.

“It is quite a concern,” he said. “If it erupts, the dam will collapse, which would be destructive for people downstream.”

That is especially true for the provincial capital of Stung Treng, which would be flooded and potentially destroyed, he said.

Construction on the dam is proposed to begin this year, at a site 20 kilometers from the provincial capital. The dam is a joint venture between Cambodia’s Royal Group and a Chinese company, with a total investment of $861 million.

An environmental assessment conducted in by the government in 2009 and discussed by a range of organizations last week found four minor fault lines on one side of the proposed site and a larger fault upstream. The report recommends a dam that would be resilient to possible future quakes.

That would mean sophisticated technology, Chea Chanta, a geographic researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told VOA Khmer.

“The construction can take place only if it has a very good technique and is good enough to resist minor earthquakes,” he said.

There is some resistance to the dam on other grounds, as well. The 8-kilometer dam would submerge seven villages and displace about 5,000 people, and it could threaten endangered species of fish that rely on migration patterns the dam would block.

Local villagers say they want properly compensated to move, but many complain they have been left in the dark.

Chea Narin, director of the of hydroelectricity department at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, declined to elaborate on the project.