Geological risk

Geological risk is associated with the geology of the site upon which the project is to be built. What type of rock lies beneath the construction site? Are there fault lines running through it? Is the area subject to seismic activity? The answers to these, and other, questions affect both the economic viability of a scheme and its eventual design.

There is only one way to discover the answer to these questions, and that is by carrying out a thorough feasibility study of the site. Such a study will be expensive, but it is vital if the project is to be understood and managed successfully. If the study is not carried out, and unexpected geological features are discovered during construction, cost and time overruns can be enormous.

Virtually all hydropower schemes have to face some unexpected geological problem. Most can be overcome. But knowing what is coming is the only way to manage the finances and construction timetable with any degree of certainty. Even then the actual construction may throw up some new difficulties.

The projects which have suffered most in this respect are those where the underground structure was thought to be known and no project-specific study was carried out. The lesson is clear. Athorough feasibility study is imperative. Understanding the geology of the site is essential if the project is to be designed correctly.

The possibility of seismic activity must also be taken into account when designing a hydro project. If earth tremors are likely, the dam and powerhouse must be designed to withstand them. A major earthquake during construction could also cause enormous disruption, particularly to temporary diversion structures. There may be cases where it would be imprudent to build a dam because of the risk of earthquake. In many cases, however, good design will enable a dam to withstand an earthquake without damage.

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