Greenpeace: Does China Have Enough Water For Coal Power?
Created: 2012-08-15 11:25 EST
This photo taken on November 15, 2010 shows workers driving
trucks at a coal mine in China's north Inner Mongolia region.
(GOU YIGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Greenpeace is warning Chinese leaders that they might have to reconsider their coal production plans if they also want to preserve their country's water resources.
A report on Monday by Greenpeace and the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing calculated the water consumption of China’s growing coal industry. They found that, by 2015, some of China's proposed coal mines and plants would require more water than the land can provide.
Coal consumption could use almost 10 billion cubic meters of water, or one-sixth of the Yellow River’s total volume annually, by 2015.
The latest 5-year plan includes building 16 new coal power bases and 14 new large-scale coal mines in some of China’s most arid regions. The fragile ecosystems in these areas rely heavily on ground water, rivers, and tributaries to stay healthy. Coal mines extract a substantial amount of groundwater during the mining process, as does energy generation from coal. Reservoirs are constructed around coal plants to create steam to power the turbines. These reservoirs take valuable water from tributaries that dry up without the water from the reservoirs.
Coal extraction alone is estimated to ruin over 2.5 cubic meters of water for every ton of coal extracted. Not only does it divert tributaries and use river water, but it pollutes the water, making it unsuitable for any other use. In the past this has caused over 10 billion yuan in economic losses reports Greenpeace.
According to the report, five coal plants off the yellow river discharge 80 million tons of waste per year. This waste is sent down river, making the rivers unsafe for wildlife and humans alike.
The Greenpeace report warns that if built unchecked, these coal plants and mines could cause soil degradation, land erosion, loss of wetlands, and desertification.
In 2002 a new water law identified fresh water as one of China’s most valuable resources, and required all levels of government to protect it. However, this may be at odds with China’s coal dependency. Coal currently generates 70% of China’s power. Since the five year plan has tied CO2 emission decreases to the GDP, coal usage may not drop significantly as long as China’s economy stays robust.