Environmentalists have voiced concern over the development of an open-pit lignite coal mine and power plant in Mong Kok, eastern Shan State, to import coal and power to Thailand.

Large amount of water will be drawn from the nearby Kok River to create steam for turning the coal-fired plant’s turbines. This will later be discharged back into the waterway at high temperatures and containing toxic chemicals that can damage the river ecosystem, claim green campaigners.

The Kok River flows into Thailand through Chiang Rai province and the Mae Ai district of Chiang Mai province before joining the Mekong River. This means there will also be disastrous implications for the Thai environment, claims an eight-page report Save Mong Kok from Coal released by the local campaign group Hark Mong Kok (meaning Love Mong Kok).

Director of Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEE Net) Witoon Permpongsacharoen said he does not think Thailand needs the extra energy capacity, and he also believes the location of the Mong Kok plant only 40 kms north of the Thai border will create environment problems.

“It is a method of profit-making for the Thai company together with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). It is a question for Thai society as we know Mae Moh power station caused a lot of problem, so why should Thailand allow EGAT to take part in lignite power stations in neighboring countries?” asked Witoon.

The power plant will also adversely affect air quality due to large quantities of toxic ash containing mercury, lead and arsenic that would be released into the atmosphere. All these poisons are absorbed by rain and will then seep into the Kok River which flows south to Thailand, he added.

Lignite, a soft brown coal, produces the most carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy than any other type of fossil fuel.

Italian-Thai Power Company—which is running the Mong Kok project—has an agreement with the Burmese government to extract 1.5 million tons of coal per year from the area for a decade, and also to construct a 405 MW power plant to sell 369 MW to the EGAT over 25 years, claims the report.

Sai Sai, the coordinator of the Burma Rivers Network, said that if the project continues it will be local people that will have to suffer the consequences of environmental damage.

“I don’t think the investor company will abide by the procedures and rules of investment,” said Sai Sai. “Looking at past cases, there is also Tigyit coal mine that severely affected the environment. Compared with Tigyit, Mong Kok is larger and situated in a more rural area [with farmers].”

“If they put waste to the Kok River, all the people living around the river will suffer because of it,”added Sai Sai.

Nearly 120 million tons of lignite lie in a 30 sq km area, with Thai workers starting their construction work on the power plant in April 2011. The electricity will be distributed to Chiang Rai, in Thailand, from 2016, according to the report.

The Thai community is also concerned about pollution to the Kok River, which is visited by thousand of tourists every year who ride boats down to Chiang Rai. The waterway is also a vital water source for countless northern Thai communities.

Local Thai authorities, academics and activists held a public forum about the impacts of the Mong Kok project on Thursday.

Italian-Thai Development PLC is Thailand’s biggest construction company, and has been involved in numerous large-scale projects both in Thailand and the wider Southeast Asian region.

The Burmese Mines ministry claimed in 2001 to have discovered a total of 258 million tons of coal deposits in the country.