On September 7 2012, the largest of the eight dams on the Chinese side of the Upper Mekong (Lancang) River came online in Pu’er, Yunnan Province. The Nuozhadu hydroelectric station, Asia’s tallest dam, turned on the first of its nine generating units that hopes to supply 23.9 billion kilowatts of energy by 2014.1 Two months later, Laos announced that it was going ahead with the construction of the Xayaburi Dam and broke ground shortly thereafter, despite continued opposition from Cambodia and Vietnam. Indeed, like falling dominos, dams are cascading down the Mekong River. Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia together have proposed a total of 12 dams on the mainstream of the Lower Mekong that threaten to irreparably harm the ecology of Southeast Asia’s most vital river. Together, these twenty dams—all at various stages of planning, construction, or completion—are double-edged swords: offering the benefits of renewable electricity to rapidly developing nations but also threatening populations and the environment.

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