1. What impact will the launch of the Three Gorges Dam have on the world’s energy use?
2. What are the positive and negative implications of this dam?
3. Why is this an important milestone in the history of China?
Environmentalists and human rights advocates are voicing loudly their protests. To create area for the mammoth project, more than one million people living on the banks of the Yangtze River will have to be resettled. The 350-mile-long reservoir will immerse villages, ancient temples, burial grounds, and the magnificent canyons that tourists from all over the world come to see. Environmentalists also dispute that the dam will endanger many animal species, for example the Yangtze River dolphin. The reservoir will also entrap millions of tons of raw pollutants spewing from China's largest built-up city, Chongqing.
The Three Gorges Dam will produce one-ninth of China's power upon completion. Regrettably, the dam may be remembered not for its hydroelectric power, but for its radical social and environmental impact. As quoted by Dr. John Byrne, director of the University of Delaware's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy. "In terms of an American scale, this dam is somewhat akin to the electrical load between Philadelphia and Washington D.C. being served from a single power plant." The energy produced is shockingly tremendous.
It is still yet to be seen if the energy produced by the Three Gorge Dam is able to be efficiently utilized into China’s energy grid. If it proves itself to be successful, many other countries in the world will follow and construct dams in their own backyards. This will lead to the rapid construction of new dams and inevitable, leads to a question- how much should humankind control nature.
The construction of the Three Gorges Dam has had many implications on the environment and people of China. The reservoir created by the dam is now a cesspool of waste, originating from the towns that were flooded due to the dam. Environmentalists believe that this threatens the drinking water of major cities along the Yangtze River like Chongqing.
While official estimates put the cost of the dam at $24 billion, independent studies conducted by others suggest the real cost could be as high as $75 billion. This has to be paid by the people of China and many are wondering if their money is really being put to good use.
Although the dam has resulted in better flood control downstream, recent flooding and mudslides in areas above the dam have communities calling foul, saying the dam has in fact simply moved the problem elsewhere. Little attempts have been made to remove potential pollutants leaking to the dam. The relative lack of waste treatment plants in China could also mean run-off from communities around the dam would most likely go untreated directly into the reservoir and into the Yangzi. In addition, the upstream Yangzi river will accumulate silt. Soil in the lower plain is no longer fertilized through flooding and more money would have be spent on fertilizers.
However, persons who have been most affected by the dam are the 1.9 million people whose homes are now underwater. These people have been forced to give up their fertile farming land and put into concrete houses instead, depriving them of their livelihood. The land which the people will now be allocated to will be much less fertile, affecting the farming industries.The government claims that compensation will be given to these people, however there are suspicions that most of it have been stolen by corrupt officials.
Engineers who visited the dam site in late 1997 identified several issues that could undermine the project’s construction schedule and safety. Of greatest concern was geologic instability. Reports state that rock strength properties were over-estimated, as the permanent ship-lock walls are prone to shallow failure which would invariably result in injuries and damages to ship traffic and the locks themselves. Also, the weaker than expected state of the underlying bedrock suggests that the granite has a higher density of fractures than assumed, raising the possibility of higher rates of seepage beneath and around the dam wall with associated foundation instability. The report also concludes that their exists a "real risk" of significant damage to the coffer dam, causing major construction delays at best, and flooding of millions at worse.
Health services, water supplies and sanitation are inadequate and there is a high incidence of rheumatic fever, hepatitis B, pneumonia, measles and diarrhea. Other health risks include a resurgence of endemic infections -- malaria, paragonimus, epidemic hantaanvirus hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, Japanese B Encephalitis and leptospirosis. Keshan disease, a commonly fatal cardiomyopathy of young women and children linked to low selenium soils, enterovirus infection, moldy grain, and the diets in endemic areas, may appear among the people ousted. Fluorosis from use of unchecked fluorine-containing coal and ground water is also a threat. But there is no programme in China to combat the threats of the Three Gorges dam to public health.
An investigation last year by Dr. Elizabeth Childs-Johnson, an archaeologist and art historian based at New York University revealed that efforts to preserve the stores of antiquities and cultural relics that would be flooded by the Three Gorges reservoir have been a massive failure. Some known and unexplored archaeological sites (such as human settlements, ancient tombs, buildings, and steles) have already been destroyed. Many cultural relics that have been exposed during the ground-clearing phase of construction, are national treasures which have aroused the ambition of antique dealers to come to the Three Gorges area with a great deal of cash to get hold of the looted relics. Consequently, it has been profitable to dig and steal relics at places where construction projects have been underway.
The Three Gorges Dam
The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world that spans the Yangtze River in Sandouping, Yichiang, Hubei, China. The construction began in 1994 and is scheduled for completion by 2009. The dam is a massive construction project which cost $25 billion. It will stretch across more than 2 km across and has a height of 185 m. Its reservoir will extend over 600 km upstream and the erection of the dam forces the displacement of more than 1.3 million people. As with many dams, there is a debate over the costs and benefits of the Three Gorges Dam. Although there are economic benefits such as flood control and hydroelectric power, there are also concerns about the future of over 1.3 million people who will be displaced by the rising waters, in addition to concerns over the loss of many valuable archaeological and cultural sites, as well as the effects on the environment.
Chinese authorities expect the dam to generate one-ninth of China’s electricity output and also to regulate the flow and water level of the Yangzi River
The construction has encountered a lot of social, economical and environmental problems. The social problems include corruption, human rights violations and resettlement difficulties. The economical problems are escalation of costs, technological problems and the threatening of China’s fishery. The environmental problems are water pollution and land pollution, both contributed by the indiscriminate dumping of garbage.
Although the dam has caused much controversy among the citizens, the China government does not accept those ideas. For example, Dai Qing, a journalist, was jailed for 10 months in 1989-90 after criticizing the Three Gorges project and also, Li Peng, the former Chinese premier and Soviet-trained engineer who led the construction of the dam.