MAC: Mines and Communities

New Burma coal project threatens thousands of people

Published by MAC on 2011-08-01
Source: The Irrawaddy, Mizzima

Burma coal mine spells disaster for environment

By Ko Htwe

The Irrawaddy

25 July 2011

Environmentalists have voiced concern over the development of an open-pit lignite coal mine and power plant in Mong Kok, eastern Shan State, to export coal and power to Thailand.

Large amount of water will be drawn from the nearby Kok River to create steam for turning the coal-fired plant's turbines. This will later be discharged back into the waterway at high temperatures and containing toxic chemicals that can damage the river ecosystem, claim green campaigners.

The Kok River flows into Thailand through Chiang Rai province and the Mae Ai district of Chiang Mai province before joining the Mekong River. This means there will also be disastrous implications for the Thai environment, claims an eight-page report Save Mong Kok from Coal released by the local campaign group Hark Mong Kok (meaning Love Mong Kok).

Director of Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEE Net) Witoon Permpongsacharoen said he does not think Thailand needs the extra energy capacity, and he also believes the location of the Mong Kok plant only 40 kms north of the Thai border will create environment problems.

"It is a method of profit-making for the Thai company together with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). It is a question for Thai society as we know Mae Moh power station caused a lot of problem, so why should Thailand allow EGAT to take part in lignite power stations in neighboring countries?" asked Witoon.

The power plant will also adversely affect air quality due to large quantities of toxic ash containing mercury, lead and arsenic that would be released into the atmosphere. All these poisons are absorbed by rain and will then seep into the Kok River which flows south to Thailand, he added.

Lignite, a soft brown coal, produces the most carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy than any other type of fossil fuel.

Italian-Thai Power Company- which is running the Mong Kok project- has an agreement with the Burmese government to extract 1.5 million tons of coal per year from the area for a decade, and also to construct a 405 MW power plant to sell 369 MW to the EGAT over 25 years, claims the report.

Sai Sai, the coordinator of the Burma Rivers Network, said that if the project continues it will be local people that will have to suffer the consequences of environmental damage.

"I don't think the investor company will abide by the procedures and rules of investment," said Sai Sai. "Looking at past cases, there is also Tigyit coal mine that severely affected the environment. Compared with Tigyit, Mong Kok is larger and situated in a more rural area [with farmers]."

"If they put waste to the Kok River, all the people living around the river will suffer because of it,"added Sai Sai.

Nearly 120 million tons of lignite lie in a 30 sq km area, with Thai workers starting their construction work on the power plant in April 2011. The electricity will be distributed to Chiang Rai, in Thailand, from 2016, according to the report.

The Thai community is also concerned about pollution to the Kok River, which is visited by thousand of tourists every year who ride boats down to Chiang Rai. The waterway is also a vital water source for countless northern Thai communities.

Local Thai authorities, academics and activists held a public forum about the impacts of the Mong Kok project on Thursday.

Italian-Thai Development PLC is Thailand's biggest construction company, and has been involved in numerous large-scale projects both in Thailand and the wider Southeast Asian region.

The Burmese Mines ministry claimed in 2001 to have discovered a total of 258 million tons of coal deposits in the country.

Local people protest coal mining in eastern Shan State



25 July 2011

Chiang Mai : Environment groups and local villagers in Burma and Thailand launched a protest against the Mong Koke coal-mining project in eastern Shan State last week.

The project is a joint operation by the Dawei deep sea port project developer, the Italian-Thai Company, ITD, and Thailand's Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand' (EGAT).

"This Mong Koke coal mining project will cause a greenhouse effect in the region, and it will affect the local environment. It will create pollution and destroy the ecological system of the Chiang Rai River. We don't want this Mong Koke coal mining project," said Suphakit Nuntavorakarn, an environmental activist.

EGAT expects the plant to generate 370 MW of power and 15,000 MW electricity power over the next 20 years.

The project is located in Burma 40 kms north of Thailand's Chiang Rai border. EGAT and the Burmese government signed an agreement to produce 1.5 million tons of coal annually for 10 years and to build a 405 MW thermal power station of which 369 MW will be sold to Thailand.

Thai power demand is 23,900 MW (150,000 million KWh) and it is expected to increase to 54,000 MW in the next 20 years. About 45 per cent is produced by coal-fired power stations. The coal to be used in the power units will be produced by the Mae Mao coalmine and imported coal.

The agreement with the Burmese government must be renewed every five years; the total project tenure is 25 years. Burma will begin selling energy to Thailand in early 2016, according to officials.

About 20 villages south of Mogok were forcibly relocated in March. The military regime ordered the villagers to sell their farmland at a set price of 20,000 kyat (US$ 25) per acre to the company. Local residents said the authorities violated the human rights of local villagers.

The protesters said the project would include about 200 trucks that will transport coal daily through the area causing noise and coal dust pollution.

The report compiled by the Mong Koke activist group said Burmese military units persecuted and tortured local villagers in 2007 when it accused them of giving support to the Shan State Army - South (SSA-S).

SSA-S and government troops frequently clash in the Mong Koke area and Burmese troops have deployed extra security to protect the project. The report said that about 1,000 Shan, Akha and Lahu villagers fled to Thailand in fear of persecution.

Thai social groups have sent letters and expressed their opposition to the project to the Thai Human Right Commission, the Thai Lawyers Council and the Chiang Rai authorities since 2009.

Residents in northern Thailand also worry that pollution will affect the Koke River. The Koke River is a main waterway for people in northern Thailand and is a popular tourist attraction. The power station is projected to use water from the Koke River and wastewater from the power station will be put into the river again.

The report said the project would emit many harmful chemicals and destroy wildlife and plants in the region. Coal mining and coal burning emits many poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, chromium and cadmium, the report said.

Meanwhile, a coal-mining project in Pinlaung Township in Burma has created dangerous water and air pollution, according to local residents. About 20,000 people from Tikyit and Se Gaung villages are suffering from skin diseases caused by the pollution, according to "Poisoned Cloud," a report prepared by Thai-based Pa-O Youth Organization released in January.

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