Putin Petitioned to Kill Plans for Siberian Hydropower Station


Environment News Service (ENS)

Date of publication: 
13 February 2009

MOSCOW, Russia – A petition against the construction of a giant hydroelectric power station in Siberia that critics say would threaten the indigenous population and an entire larch forest ecosystem was handed to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin this week.

Signed by more than 8,000 people, the petition was organized and presented to Putin by WWF-Russia, Greenpeace-Russia, and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North as well as other nongovernmental organizations.

The construction project, in the Evenk municipal district, could drive as many as 2,000 Evenki out of their homes and reindeer pasture lands and, according to the evaluation data, one million hectares of unique larch forest would be flooded.

To generate power, a dam would be constructed on the Lower Tunguska River. The environmental and indigenous groups warn that one of the three radioactive underground nuclear explosion areas in the Tunguska flood plain would be flooded as a result of the construction.

Russian engineers say the Evenk hydroelectric power station would be the largest in Russia, and with the project capacity of 20,000 megawatts, one of the largest in the world. The construction is expected to take 18 years to complete.

In 1988, the Soviet Union cancelled plans to construct a dam at the same site after then Soviet head of state Mikhail Gorbachev questioned the policy of building giant hydro-power stations.

“The building of the Turukhansk, now Evenk, hydropower station was rejected at the end of the ’80s because of the results of serious environmental and economic examinations,” said Mikhail Kreindlin of Greenpeace-Russia.

“The revival of this project will mean a return to the most dreadful times in the ex-USSR administrative command system,” he said.

Hydro-OGK, the Russian hydroelectric power company behind the project, says the power station is needed for economic development in the region.

“Today we lag far behind other developed countries,” Rasim Khaziakhmetov, a member of Hydro-OGK’s executive board, told Radio-Free Europe last year.” Russia realizes only about 20 percent of its hydroelectric power potential; Britain realizes 100 percent; Norway realizes 100 percent; the United States realizes almost 100 percent. That’s to say that among developed countries, Russia is about the only one not realizing its full capacity.”

But the environmental groups that organized the petition says these larch forests play a crucial role in carbon balance maintenance and global climate change control.

The forests that would be flooded to build the power station are almost unaffected by human agricultural activity and so, the environmental groups say, they are important for biological diversity conservation and ecological balance maintenance, not only in Russia but for the whole planet.

The indigenous Evenks say that while some of them have already given up their traditional lifestyle for homes in larger towns and cities, a dam on the Lower Tunguska River would wipe out the last remnants of the tribal life.

At the United Nations session on human rights that concluded in Geneva today, the Association of the Small Indigenous Northern and Far Eastern peoples presented a report that includes facts of violation of the indigenous peoples’ rights on the traditional way of life and nature management.

The report points out the possibility of the forced resettlement of the Evenks as a result of the hydropower station construction.

“Before we make the decision whether or not to take on the Evenk hydroelectric dam project, we must first assess the situation,” said Khaziakhmetov last April. “We are looking at our own Russian experience, and at the international experience in the field of dam building, so that we can determine how great the risks are compared to the benefits. Obviously if the risks are greater, then we won’t take on this project.”