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Thai geologist notes the massive barrage on the Mekong lies close to fault zones; contractor insists seismic guidelines are being followed

Earthquake experts have renewed concerns about the potential for a seismic disaster hitting the massive Xayaburi dam, which is well under construction on the Mekong River in a quake-prone location in Laos. Geologist Dr Punya Charusiri of Chulalungkorn University in Bangkok said: “The Xayaburi dam poses a potential danger because there are active faults close to the dam site.”

Dr Punya said there was a 30 per cent chance of a medium-sized earthquake hitting the dam site in the next 30 years, and a 10 per cent chance of a powerful earthquake of up to magnitude 7. He said: “If the fault at the dam site becomes active … there is no chance for seismic engineering to take care of that.”

He also said construction should “never have started” at such a site without further research into its seismic risk, although the dam’s builders say it already complies with all earthquake safety rules.

There have been a series of earthquakes near the project site in recent years, and Dr Punya’s warning comes after Phnom Penh expressed concerns about the earthquake risk at Xayaburi to the Laotian government in 2011.

In 2011, two quakes hit 48 kilometres from the dam site, one of 5.4 magnitude and one of 4.6. A month later a quake of 3.9 occurred 60 kilometres from the site. In 2007, a 6.3-magnitude quake hit the Xayaburi area.

Further away, in northern Myanmar, a 6.9 magnitude quake on March 24, 2011 killed 151 people.

Dr Punya said the quakes near Xayaburi occurred on what were thought to have been inactive faults, “an unusual development and one that causes additional concern”.

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