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Siberian Deer Herders Press Putin To Stop Dam

Evenks fear they will lose traditional grazing lands.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- An indigenous tribe who herd deer in Russia's frozen tundra have petitioned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to scrap plans to build a giant hydroelectric dam on their land, their representatives said.

The Evenks say the project, which may cost about $13 billion, would flood an area more than 10 times the size of New York City and drive about 2,000 Evenks -- out of 28,000 in Russia -- from their traditional villages and pasture lands.

They have enlisted the help of environment campaigners including the World Wildlife Fund 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 on February 10.

"The Evenks are categorically opposed to this hydroplant 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 hydroelectric 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 hydroelectric potential and one of them is in Russia in the Evenk region so sooner or later it will be used," a spokeswoman said.

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

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

In 1988, the Soviet Union cancelled plans to construct a giant dam at the site after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev questioned the policy of building giant hydropower 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.