PSPD in English Int. Solidarity 2019-05-30   2664

[Statement] Investigation confirms Xepian Xenamnoy Dam collapse not a “force majeure” event

Statement on the investigation results of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Hydropower Dam Collapse

Investigation confirms Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Dam collapse not a “force majeure” event

Korean Government, SK Engineering & Construction and all related stakeholders should take responsibility.


The National Investigation Committee (NIC) announced on 28 May that last year’s collapse of Saddle Dam D, part of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy (PNPC) Hydroelectric Power Project, was a man-made disaster. The Independent Expert Panel (IEP) found that the accident could have been prevented had appropriate measures been taken, and thus concluded the dam failure could not be considered an event of “force majeure”. As the NIC confirmed the cause of the accident was man-made, SK Engineering & Construction, the South Korean Government and other stakeholders including PNPC should compensate for the accident in accordance with the investigation results. The South Korean Government should also improve procedures. The implementation of safeguards should become mandatory as a basic device to prevent the adverse environmental and social impacts of large-scale development projects, and the rights of local residents should be protected.


According to Laos’ state news agency, the IEP found that even if there was heavy rainfall during the days leading up to the dam failure, the reservoir level was still below the maximum operating level and well below the dam crest level when the failure started. The IEP found that the root cause of the failure related to high permeability combined with erodible horizons mainly due to the existence of canaliculus interconnected paths. With the raising water level during the filling of the reservoir, seepage flow developed in the foundation along these highly permeable paths and horizons. This resulted in internal erosion and softening of the Laterite soil. The IEP also said that when the erosion and softening in the foundation reached a certain extent, the stability of the dam was no longer ensured and a deep rotational sliding at the highest section of the saddle dam was triggered. This ultimately led to the complete breach of the saddle dam and its foundation resulting in the catastrophic uncontrolled release of water from the reservoir.


The IEP’s findings were predicted. After the failure some dam design experts pointed out that the soil in the area was unsuitable for the construction of a dam. During the implementation of the project, the Korean Civil Society TF team and several international NGOs had also questioned the environmental impact assessment investigation process and results. The IEP’s findings confirmed the geological environment and the soil in the area were poorly analyzed and that the design and construction of the dam were inappropriate.


SK Engineering & Construction and the South Korean Government had maintained they could not disclose their position until the official results of the Lao Government’s investigation were released. When the IEP’s investigation results were announced, however, SK Engineering & Construction still did not reveal the results of its own investigation into the cause of the collapse. SK Engineering & Construction stated that the IEP’s findings were nothing more than empirical reasoning and lacked scientific evidence and data. SK Engineering & Construction claims the South Korean Government investigation team and the world’s leading engineering firms that took part in the investigation as observers are also claiming to have a different opinion to the IEP on the cause of the accident. However, this claim by SK Engineering & Construction does not support their existing claim that the cause of the failure was due to “a natural disaster caused by heavy rain”. Nor does it provide concrete and reasonable grounds for their opposition to the IEP’s investigation results, an investigation conducted by Lao Government over a period of 10 months.


Ahead of the NIC’s announcement of the findings, one Lao Government official said in a media interview, “The disclosure of the results is being delayed due to negotiations with the South Korean Government over the scope of the disclosure of the investigation report.” The findings on the root causes of this tragic disaster, during which dozens of people were killed or went missing and thousands of residents were driven from their homes, should be made public without reserve. The South Korean Government, the Lao Government, SK Engineering &Construction, PNPC, and all other related entities should disclose all information related to the dam failure. This should include information on whether the environmental and social impact assessment was conducted correctly and whether they complied with safeguards. They should also take responsibility for the consequences of this disaster. Residents lost their families and their livelihood overnight and they have the right to know why this happened. Thorough investigation, reasonable restoration of damage, compensation, and measures to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy are necessary. We again urge the South Korean Government, SK Engineering & Construction and related stakeholders to take responsibility.



29 May 2019


Korean Civil Society Task Force Team for the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Dam Collapse

Energy & Climate Policy Institute / Korean Federation for Environmental Movement/ Korea Green Foundation / KTNC Watch / PEACE MOMO / People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy / People’s Initiatives for Development Alternatives



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