February 10, 2009 / 3:03 PM / 10 years ago

Siberian deer herders press Putin to stop dam

MOSCOW (Reuters) - An indigenous tribe who herd deer in Russia’s frozen tundra petitioned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Tuesday to scrap plans to build a giant hydro-electric dam on their land, their representatives said.

A herd of deer stand in Losiny Ostrov national park in a file photo. REUTERS/Viktor Korotayev

The Evenki say the project, which may cost about $13 billion, would flood an area more than ten times the size of New York City and drive about 2,000 Evenki — out of 28,000 in Russia — from their traditional villages and pasture lands.

They have enlisted the help of environment campaigners including WWF and Greenpeace and a host of local groups who have collected 8,000 signatures asking Putin to bin the plans. The signatures were submitted to Putin’s office Tuesday.

“The Evenki are categorically opposed to this hydro-plant and we believe that if the indigenous people are against it then it should be scrapped,” said Dmitry Berezhkov, vice president of the Russian Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North.

“We believe the whole project will have very serious damage on their culture and whole way of life,” he said.

Russia’s state hydro-electric power company said it was looking at the possibility of building an 8,000 megawatt station on the Lower Tunguska River, a tributary of the great Yenisei River, in northern Siberia.

RusHydro said no concrete plans had been finalized and the company would fully assess the local and environmental impact, though it said a hydro-station would eventually be built at the unique site.

“There are only six rivers with such hydro-electric potential and one of them is in Russia in the Evenki region so sooner or later it will be used,” said a spokeswoman.

“We are approaching this with full social responsibility and are currently assessing the ecological consequences of this project,” she added.

RusHydro said the hydro-electric power station would cut carbon dioxide emissions and create thousands of jobs.

In 1988, the Soviet Union canceled plans to construct a giant dam at the site after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev questioned the policy of building giant hydro-power stations.

But energy officials have said the project will change the face of the region by bringing railways, roads and factories to the desolate spot.

Editing by Janet Lawrence

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