Officials fail to act on polluting Vietnam coal plant

By VnExpress   October 2, 2016 | 07:00 pm GMT+7
Officials fail to act on polluting Vietnam coal plant
The Duyen Hai Thermal Power Plant in Tra Vinh Province. Photo courtesy of Electricity of Vietnam

Despite a raft of complaints about air and water pollution, the second check this year has resulted in no action being taken, again.

Government officials inspected a thermal power plant in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh on Saturday after numerous complaints about air and water pollution.

The Duyen Hai Thermal Power Plant stands along the coast of Tra Vinh with a capacity of more than 4,400 megawatts. This equates to around four million tons of ash and sludge discharged every year.

A dump site of 100 hectares (247 acres) for the sludge will be full in no more than two years, and the investor has not figured out what to do with the sludge yet.

Locals said their lives have been badly disturbed by the plant’s huge emissions since it started running around two years ago. Several fish and salt farmers said they have abandoned their businesses due to the dust.

Dao Van Chinh, a commune official, said there are times when wind blows dust from the plant all over locals’ houses and fields.

The inspection team comprised officials from the Politburo, the Communist Party’s decision-making body; the Fatherland Front Committee, an umbrella organization of all political and social groups in Vietnam; and the provincial government.

Officials from the Environment Ministry checked the plant in March but it seems nothing has changed since then. This second inspection appears to have been toothless as well, with no tough actions taken.

The officials once again asked the plant’s investor to submit a report on the plant’s environmental impacts, which it was supposed to do before starting operations.

They questioned its shift to dry-sludge discharge from the planned wet-sludge discharge system, which costs more but reduces the impact on the area.

The plant was also questioned about the legitimacy of its underwater pipes used to discharge sewage into the sea. Commune officials said that leaks from the pipes could hit fishing in the area.

But Nguyen Viet Dung, chief manager of the project which is part of the state monopoly Electricity of Vietnam, said discharging sewage into the sea is not prohibited under Vietnamese laws, as long as it is treated.

Dung also said the plant’s dry sludge is discharged through a closed system into the dump site, which is watered regularly.

“There are no impacts on the environment,” he said.

Vietnam's government has announced plans to build 14 coal-fired power plants in the Mekong Delta by 2030, adding a total capacity of around 18,000 megawatts to the power-hungry south.

A study by the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance found thermal power plants require lots of water for cooling, and that the 14 plants will discharge around 70 million cubic meters of 40°C water every day, posing a significant threat to an aquatic eco-system that sustains 20 million people.

Vietnam depends mostly on hydropower and thermal plants to meet its power demands.

The country has scrambled to develop a new network of coal-fired plants after news of droughts and damage attributed to hydropower dams circulated in the media. Beyond public discontent with the dams, experts say the country has already tapped every available hydrological resource it has for power.

But there is also concern about the plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.

Last year, a joint study produced by Green Peace and Harvard University estimated that air pollution created by coal-fired power plants kills around 4,300 people in Vietnam each year. The study also estimated the toll would rise to 25,000 per year if the Mekong Delta plants go into operation.

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> World Bank urges Vietnam to shun coal

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