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The Nam Ngum 1 hydropower station in Vientiane.

Enduring energy: power of Laos-Japan partnership embodied by Nam Ngum dam

Laos’ Nam Ngum 1 dam and hydropower plant is a historic achievement in construction, and its iconic image has appeared on Lao currency including the former 50 kip banknote and postage stamps.
Empowering the ongoing development of capacity at the Nam Ngum 1 hydropower plant has seen five projects backed by Japan undertaken since 1971.

Then Deputy Prime Minister Dr Sonexay Siphandone strikes a gong at the handover ceremony in August 2022.

The six and a half decade history of the genesis of the Nam Ngum dam goes back to 1957 when then the Prince and later the first President of Laos, Souphanouvong, met famed Japanese engineer Mr Kubota Yutaka at Vientiane’s Settha Palace Hotel.
The two men discussed the possibilities of hydropower generation on the Nam Ngum river north of Vientiane. At that stage, these two leaders in their fields could only have estimated the enduring positive impacts of electrification and revenues from electricity exports unlocked by Laos’ first and foremost hydropower producer, the Nam Ngum 1 dam.
In 1959, a contract for a development study was signed between the former Kingdom of Laos and Nippon Koei Co., Ltd. The success of this project is the result of the efforts of Japan’s and Laos’ top engineers, according to the JICA Laos Office.
Foremost was Mr Kubota Yutaka, who served as the original leader and found that the proposed site had ideal geographical conditions. He made technical proposals with a view to future expansion.
The Nam Ngum 1 hydropower plant has persevered amid severe challenges, from construction to commissioning. These include the dangers to health and safety caused by the Indochina War to tropical diseases and the rudimentary state of available healthcare. In the first phase of construction, beginning in 1968, deadly malaria claimed several lives.
Many years later, the Covid-19 pandemic caused temporary delays to the installation of the Government of Japan-backed hydropower generator unit No. 6, which commenced in 2017.
This project was successfully completed in March 2022 as a result of the efforts of Hazama Ando Corporation and Voith Fuji Hydro K.K. as the contractors and the joint venture of Nippon Koei Co., Ltd., Electric Power Development Co., Ltd., and Lao Consulting Group Ltd. as the engineers.
The wisdom, foresight, ingenuity and perseverance of the professionals involved since that first meeting at Settha Palace have all greatly contributed to the development of Laos. 

 
Mr Kubota Yutaka (left) shakes hands with King Wattana in 1971.   A rice field in Tha Ngon district, Vientiane, during the planting season.

The Lao and Japanese who have helped create the Nam Ngum dam we know today have all come face to face with the challenges and beauty of the rich natural landscape of Laos and sought to leverage the benefits of river water for socio-economic development as well as energy.
The Nam Ngum dam is not only a benefit to the hydroelectric power plant, but also for the agricultural development of the Tha Ngon area in Xaythany district, Vientiane.
Based on the agreement made between the two governments on the installation of a Pilot Farm in 1970, Japan committed to cooperate on several projects to develop this area, including “the Project for Improvement of Irrigated Agriculture in Tha Ngon”, which was completed in March, 2022. Tha Ngon and the surrounding area have since become a major agricultural area in Vientiane.
The Nam Ngum dam has also appeared in pop culture. The feature film “Say Nam Lai (The River Flows)” followed a plotline based upon of the experiences of those Japanese and Lao conducting the primary survey of the dam. The film was produced to commemorate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Laos and Japan and released in 2017.
Summing up the importance and high regard held in Laos and Japan for the iconic project in his remarks at the handover ceremony of the Nam Ngum 1 Hydropower Station Expansion Project in August 2022, JICA Laos Office Chief Representative, Mr Toshio Nagase, said “The Nam Ngum dam is certainly first and foremost one of the symbolic and historic projects that continues to represent the longstanding friendly relations between Laos and Japan.”
“This 6th hydropower generator is installed today, seamlessly, into this dam which was first built more than 50 years ago.”
The dam symbolises the length and depth of the relationship between Laos and Japan, Mr Nagase added.

By Advertorial Desk
 (Latest Update March 24, 2023)

   

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