To coin the phrase "you'd be damned if the do, and damned if you don't", well.... it couldn't really be any more apt when it comes to the pros and cons of the worlds largest dam and hydro-electric power plant. This massive undertaking that took place, with construction starting on December 14th 1994 and not being completed until May 2012, has become a controversial topic not only within China but also around the rest of the world.
A Long Complicated History
Initially envisioned by Sun Yat-Sen in 1919, he believed that locating a dam just downstream of the famous and stunningly beautiful Three Gorges area in Yichang, would see it able to generate 30 million horsepower of energy. 1932 saw the then Nationalist government begin some preliminary plans on the project. In 1944 the U.S.A became involved with chief design engineer, John L. Savage drawing up a proposal for the "Yangtze River Project" but with the advent of the Chinese Civil war, the project was put on hold.
After Mao Ze Dong came to power, he too supported the idea of this project but built the smaller Gezhouba Dam first, down stream and closer to the city of Yichang. What with that and many internal problems within the country at that time, the plans were delayed yet again.
It wasn't until the 80's that the idea re-emerged and was approved in the National Peoples Congress, finally seeing them start building around the end of 1994.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Being able to control rising water levels has reduced the frequency of severe major flooding from every 10 years to every 100 years. This area is also prone to "Super Floods like the one that occurred in 1954, killing 33,169 people and forcing 18,884,000 people to move. This flood covered Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province, for over three months and in 1998 another flood affected more than 2.3 million people and causing more than 4000 deaths. Wuhan is about a four-hour drive away, heading downstream from Yichang, so you can see the how far the damage can spread. In fact, the Yangtze River starts in the Eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau and flows all the way through to Shanghai on China's east coast.
The Three Gorges Dam, however has been researched and tested for so many years. The location is believed to be the safest place in China for this construction to reside.
Plants and Wildlife
There are however other environmental issues that if not addressed properly will have an irreversible effect on the surrounding wildlife and nature. In a region long known for it's rich biodiversity, there has already been much proof that the dams impact on plant life and animals within the region is causing a rapid demise of many different species, bringing them close to extinction. The Yangtze River basin is home to over 350 different fish species, 47 of which are listed as protected and endangered. The Chinese River Dolphin and The Chinese Sturgeon are two included on this list.
Are big enough efforts being made to save and reverse the damage that is already occurring due to the now huge barrier that is blocking the river, injuring fish caught in the turbine blades and disrupting the eco system? The disruption is not only limited to within the water of the river either...The critically endangered Siberian Crane may possibly lose it's winter wetland area in Poyang lake basin.
Weighing It all Up
- With much of the world screaming at China to fall into line and reduce its carbon footprint, the worlds largest emitter of greenhouse gas says that this dam can generate as much energy as 18 coal power plants and can produce enough energy to supply the whole of Beijing (close to the same population size as the whole of Australia) with power for one year. You've got to admit, that's extremely impressive.
- It is believed that the construction of the Three Gorges Dam will protect 15 million people and 1.5 million acres of vulnerable farmland areas of the Yangtze River from flooding.
- Notorious for dangerous shipping conditions, the now raised water level up stream allows for larger boats to traverse the waters, travelling further inland. The whole Yangtze river trade has been boosted, and transportation costs have been cut.
- Over one million people had to be re-homed because of the rising water levels in certain areas.
- Environmental imbalances within the eco system bring about greater possibilities of extinction of some animal and plant species.
- The link in possibilities that dam constructions may increase earthquake activity
The Dream Of The Three Gorges
Amazon Price: $7.99 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 19, 2016)
What Do You Think?
For a country trying to sustain a population of over one billion, three hundred and fifty four million people (1,354,040,000). Do you think the pros outway the cons?