Tibetan mega-dam begins operation: China media

This picture taken on Nov 23, 2014 shows the Zangmu Hydropower Station in Gyaca county in Lhoka, or Shannan prefecture, southwest China's Tibet region. -- PHOTO: AFP
This picture taken on Nov 23, 2014 shows the Zangmu Hydropower Station in Gyaca county in Lhoka, or Shannan prefecture, southwest China's Tibet region. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - China has begun generating electricity from Tibet's biggest ever hydropower project, state-run media reported, the latest dam development on Himalayan rivers that has prompted concern in neighbouring India.

The first generating unit of the 9.6 billion yuan (S$2 billion) Zangmu Hydropower Station, which stands more than 3,300 metres above sea level, went into operation on Sunday, China's official Xinhua news agency said.

The dam on the Yarlung Zangbo river - known as the Brahmaputra in India, where it is a major waterway - will be 116 metres high when completed next year, according to reports.

It will have a total generating capacity of 510,000 kilowatts, Xinhua said, making it the largest dam ever built on the Tibetan plateau.

"The hydropower station will solve Tibet's power shortage, especially in the winter," Xinhua quoted an official from the Tibet Electric Power Co. as saying.

India has previously expressed concern about damming the Brahmaputra, one of the largest Himalayan rivers and a lifeline to some of India's remote, farm-dependent northeastern states.

India's foreign ministry last year urged China "to ensure that the interests of downstream states are not harmed by any activities in upstream areas" of the river, after state media reports that China planned several more dams there.

Foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said Monday that New Delhi had been aware the dam was "coming up".

"The Chinese have told us that it should no implication for us," he said.

Chinese dam construction has been blamed for reduced flow and sudden flooding on the Mekong river which flows into Southeast Asia, claims Beijing has denied.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, "the hydropower stations China builds will not affect the flood prevention and ecological system of downstream areas."

Chinese media showed photographs of the Tibetan dam - a large concrete structure that did not appear to have flooded an area significantly wider than the river's original span.