A failure in a dam could leave millions of people in the US and Canada without power, and a cascade of natural disasters could follow, the head of Canada’s National Energy Board said.
In a report to the House of Commons Energy Committee, Jim Kilduff said the dam-related events could happen in as little as two weeks or as long as a year.
“It would be catastrophic failure, in my view,” he said.
“The cost of it would be enormous.”
It could also mean a shutdown of entire towns, a disaster that would be blamed on the Chinese, and possibly lead to a global financial crisis.
“We need to be very careful about the risks,” he added.
He said there were still many lessons to learn about dam design, technology and operation.
“If we can’t fix the problem, what are we going to do?” he said, adding that the dams were the world’s largest hydroelectric power plants and were “at risk of failure in any event”.
The problems were likely caused by the dam’s design, which had been developed to withstand an event like a catastrophic failure.
Kilduff pointed to a study in 2014 that found that “the design of a single dam can significantly alter the dynamics of a flood and other natural disasters”.
“The design of the dam can also lead to significant failure rates and consequent losses to the ecosystem,” he wrote.
He also warned that dam operators and builders were “under no obligation to fix the design”.
But he also said that “as a rule of thumb, failure of a dam should not be taken lightly”.
The report said the system was a “high priority” in terms of managing the risks and the costs.
“It would also be prudent to assess the dam design to ensure that it is safe, that the design is appropriate, that it can withstand a catastrophic event, and that it does not pose an unreasonable risk to the public and the economy.”
He said that in the case of a failure, it could be “difficult to determine if it was the design or the underlying cause”.
Koulduff said that the dam was “the world’s second largest hydro power plant” and had a capacity of 1.1 billion kilowatts (kWh) and a “considerable” storage capacity of 5.6 billion kWh.
The dam was constructed in 1885 and completed in 1917. (Reuters) It had a history of serious structural problems that were “not readily remedied”, he wrote, adding: “The dam has never been in service for more than about 15 years.”
The study, released in January, said the “significant number of severe, catastrophic failures” and “potentially catastrophic failure” that occurred over a 10-year period was “likely caused by a combination of factors”.
It said that while the dam had never been inspected, it was “under investigation” and that “an inspection is required if there is a reasonable chance of serious damage or failure”.
As part of the investigation, “it is expected that the owner of the project will produce documents, as well as a report on the investigation and any mitigation measures, that would allow the National Energy Boards to conduct a full, independent review of the design and operation of the system”.
(AP: Andrew Harnik) The National Energy Act requires the Canadian government to “take all appropriate steps” to ensure the safety and integrity of the hydroelectric system.
Kiefer Sutherland, who heads the Energy Department, said that as a result of the study, the dam would be given a “significant upgrade” and will be upgraded to a “critical dam”.
He did not provide details about what those upgrades might be.
Canada’s government has pledged to spend $1.3 billion on its dam, but that is unlikely to happen until at least 2018.
It is also not known whether the dam will be able to cope with the unprecedented magnitude of flooding expected to occur during the monsoon season.
As well as flood control, the system includes power, sewage and wastewater management.
And it also provides a connection to the mainland and can be used for a variety of purposes, including flood control and agricultural production.
Last year, a series of storms hit parts of the US, including Houston, Texas, and parts of Louisiana, which saw heavy rainfall.
President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries has been blocked by courts and the US courts have ordered a stay on the order.
According to the US State Department, some US states have suspended water pumping and water delivery to the dam.