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Hydro dam rules out of touch

Update: August, 19/2014 - 10:06

Cao Anh Dung, deputy director of the General Department of Industrial Safety Technique and Environment Agency, discussed the current policies on hydropower dams with Nhan dan (People's Daily) Newspaper.

A report released recently by the Ministry of Industry and Trade says that 34 out of the country's 114 small hydroelectric dams with capacity under 30 MW do not conduct regular safety inspections and almost half lack emergency preparedness plans. What do these figures tell you?

I want to stress that protection of the dam is not only reflected by safety inspections. The project owner must do regular work to detect and handle any problem, particularly as the annual rainy/storm season approaches.

Under Decree 72/2007, all dams must have security plans. In reality, many of the dams are very small, so I think it is high time for the government to amend Decree 72 to reflect the true picture of our hydropower dams.

If an accident happens, who should take responsibility?

The project owner must take responsibility for the dam's operation. When an accident is reported, the first thing the owner must do is conduct an investigation to find the cause and then identify who should take responsibility for the problem.

In Viet Nam, there are two tiers of public administration for hydropower plants. The Ministry of Industry and Trade is in charge of major hydropower plants while the small ones are under Provincial People's Committees.

Do you think existing administrative sanctions are not strong enough, and that's why safety procedures are so poor?

I don't think so. Our legal documents on this matter are rather comprehensive. For example, we have Decree 134/2013 on administrative sanctions relating to the safety of hydropower dams and Decree 140/2005 on administrative sanctions regarding the operations and protection of irrigation projects.

However, I have to concede that these legal documents do not go into sufficient detail to enable dam management agencies to fine wrongdoers. So far, no dam owner has been fined under Decree 140.

Dam owners themselves have complained that while there are many legal documents, no one knows how to implement them. How do you respond to that?

Before 2010, most dam owners closely followed all regulations on dam safety protection. Now, things have changed drastically, particularly for big dam owners. As for small dam owners, many have not implemented all the safety protection requirements. They claim it is difficult to calculate dam failure scenarios, so they can't come up with emergency preparedness plans.

In addition, current regulations on dam safety management, particularly for small ones, are outdated and should be revised.

In your opinion, when will Decree 72 be revised to enable dam owners to be more pro-active in protecting their hydropower projects?

The Ministry of Industry and Trade, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and other ministries have met and discussed the compiling of a new decree to replace Decree 72 as instructed by the Prime Minister.

During their meeting, the ministries discussed ways to co-ordinate in solving the problem, such as by compiling a flood map, and methods to calculate various flood scenarios for the lowlands. While awaiting the new government Decree, I think provincial People's Committees will take the lead in giving instructions to dam owners to ensure that hydropower dams in their localities operate safely. — VNS

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