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Sixth Mekong River dam project in Laos moves ahead

Last Updated on 08th January 2024

Laos has submitted plans to build a new hydropower dam on the Mekong River, with construction expected to start later this year, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) said on Monday.

The ~ USD 2 billion Sanakham hydropower plant will be developed by Datang Sanakham Hydropower company, a subsidiary of China’s Datang International Power Generation Co. Ltd.

Sixth Mekong River Project Sketch in Laos

Sanakham’s proposed site is located 155 kilometres north of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and is projected to produce 684 megawatts of electricity once it start operating in 2028.

The Sanakham dam is the sixth project that has been put forward to the prior consultation process with the MRC, an intergovernmental agency that works with regional governments.

Hydropower development has become central to the Laos government’s plan to export around 20,000 megawatts of electricity to its neighbours by 2030. This latest project would be the sixth proposal of nine planned mainstream Mekong dams inside Laos. Previously, Laos has completed two dams on the Mekong River, the 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi Dam and the 260-megawatt Don Sahong Dam last year, against strong concerns from environmental groups. 


Chinese funding for hydropower projects inside Laos continues as it has built 11 dams on the upper reaches of the Mekong River inside Chinese territory.

The Sanakham project will now have to go through an MRC prior consultation process, which normally lasts for six months, where other MRC members including Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam can review the project and assess any cross-border impacts.

While these players can suggest changes during the MRC consultation process, but they cannot veto any project.

An Pich Hatda, CEO of the MRC Secretariat commented - "Laos submitted the project as an intra-basin water use around the year on the mainstream of the Mekong River, which is subject to undergoing the prior consultation process. The submission will enable the notified Member Countries and members of the public to have detailed information and study of the project’s water use and any potential impacts stemming from the project."

The MRC is an intergovernmental organization for regional dialogue and cooperation in the lower Mekong river basin, and was established in 1995 based on the Mekong Agreement between Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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