Yangtze tamed, but criticism still raging
Mary-Anne Toy Herald Correspondent in Beijing
The Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday 20th of May 2006
News and Features
Comment to this topic by CFLee
COMMUNIST leaders since Mao Zedong have dreamt of taming the mighty Yangtze,
China's floodprone "mother river" that has both nurtured and abused the Chinese people throughout 5000 turbulent years of history. Today, the "walls of stone" that Mao envisaged in the 1950s in the infancy of the People's Republic will be completed with the final pouring of concrete for the colossal Three Gorges Dam.
The Chinese Government, which has weathered the fiercest environmental battles in its history over the project, will hope that the completion of the dam will finally quell opposition as efficiently as it will tame the Yangtze floods that killed more than 300,000 people last century.
But the world's biggest hydro-electric project and the pride of Chinese engineering, which has swallowed more than $U25 billion ($33 billion), 630-square kilometres of prime farmland, at least 1200 villagers and two towns and has necessitated the moving of more than a million people, seems set to continue as a battleground between the authorities and the country's newly emboldened environmental movement.
Government engineers agree there has been an adverse environmental impact, but argue that the benefits - clean hydro power, flood control and improved access to central China from the eastern ports such as Shanghai for shipping - outweigh the drawbacks for the 220 million people who live in the Yangtze basin.
Environmentalists and scientists fear the reservoir behind the dam will become a giant cesspool that will affect water quality for the 30 million people living in China's biggest urban conglomeration at nearby Chongqing.
They say its flood-control benefits are exaggerated and that the dam has caused a bottleneck for shipping with lengthy delays to get through the dam's five-level lock system.
They also say that the 1 million plus migrants created by the dam will cause social turmoil for generations. There are concerns that such a massive reordering of nature is increasing instability in an already seismic-sensitive area and that landslides have increased since building began.
The dam's most outspoken opponent is Dai Qing, the feisty journalist turned activist whose critical book Yangtze! Yangtze caused her to spend 10 months in a maximum security jail. While some activists consider the Three Gorges a dead issue, Ms Dai says Three Gorges will remain a flashpoint because the problems it has created will only become more evident.
The dam was finally approved by Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping against the advice of then party secretary Zhao Ziyang who warned him the project was trouble economically, politically and technically. Work began on the 18-metre high by 2.3-kilometre wide dam in 1993. In 2003 a year after the dam's left bank was completed, the reservoir was filled to 135 metres after which the first generator began producing power. Today's concrete pour will complete the right bank, nine months ahead of schedule.
The entire project is due to be completed and fully operational in 2009 when the reservoir level will rise to 175 metres above sea level. Last month the Government announced another 80,000 people would be relocated from near the dam because their homes will be flooded when the reservoir level is raised to 156 metres later this year.
Pat Adams of the Toronto-based Three Gorges Probe, an anti-dam non-government organisation, says governments continue to be attracted by such showcase infrastructure projects over smaller, more efficient and greener projects. "Projects like this can only go ahead as long as it's governed by propaganda, as long as the proponents don't have to be accountable for example to taxpayers, independent regulator or the stockmarket," Ms Adams said. "It's extremely expensive power, it's created a bottleneck for navigation on
the Yangtze and it doesn't deliver the flood control benefits they claim ...
Meanwhile what people really need is power, the ability to move back and forth on the river and flood control. The managing director of China forecasters Dragonomics, Arthur Kroeber, says it is unrealistic to expect China to deal with its huge energy, environmental and transport needs without giant engineering projects, but a better system of accountability and balancing of cost-benefits of big versus small projects is needed. Mr Kroeber says despite the controversy, Three Gorges hasn't diminished China's appetite for the mega projects, citing the $US50 billion south-north water project which will divert Yangtze river water to North China through three new canals, and the creation of China's biggest container port on the Yanshan islets. "In theory these ought to be subject to greater constraints now because of environmental and energy efficiency concerns but in reality the momentum behind them is large," Mr Kroeber said.
The Three Gorges was approved during acute power shortages, but when the project is fully operational, its 85 billion kilowatts of annual power will supply just 2 per cent of energy needs by 2010. That is why the country's hydro-electric industry have another 100 more dams in the pipeline or under construction. Officials are pushing ahead with plans to dam China's most dramatic and deepest gorge, Tiger Leaping Gorge, 1500 kilometres away, and another 12 dams on the Yangtze to support the Three Gorges.
* The dam's reservoir is 185 metres high and 2309 metres long and can store up to 39.3 billion cubic metres of water.
* It will be able to generate 85 billion kilowatts of electricity from 26 power turbines.
* Twenty-seven million cubic metres of concrete have been used building the dam and locks. The total amount of metal used on the project is expected to reach 281,000 tonnes.
* The reservoir created by the dam has inundated nearly 630 square kilometres, including two cities, 11 counties and 116 towns. More than 1 million people have been relocated.
* The dam's final price tag, estimated at $US10.8 billion in 1993, is expected to reach $25 billion.
*Environmentalists fear the project will cause severe pollution and silting by slowing the river's flow with industrial waste.
Comments by CF Lee
Dear Sau-wan :
A few points of clarification , regarding the Three Gorges project :
(1) Electricity generated
The amount of electricity generated by the project is not exactly
miniscule . There are 26 huge turbines each with a generating capacity
of 700 MW . This means that the total installed generating capacity is
18,200 MW , making it the largest power generating station in the world
( inclusive of nuclear , thermal and hydro-electric ) . The next one is
Itapu of Brazil , about 11,000 MW . The third is La Grande of Quebec , Canada ,
about 5500 MW .
How big is 18,200 MW ? Well , it is about 5 times the total generating
capacity of Hong Kong Electric . This is due to the large volume of flow
in the Yangzte .
About half of the hydro-electricity generated goes to Shanghai and
Eastern China . About one quareter goes to Guangdong . The remaining
quarter is used locally in Central China . It has helped to ease the
shortage of power supply in Shanghai and Guangdong in recent years .
(2) Navigator on the Yangzte
It takes about 2.5 hours to go through the five-staged shiplock . This
is compatible with other canal / ship-lock systems around the world . At
each stage , time is required to lower or raise the water levels .
(3) Flood hazard mitigation
Yes , with the dam completed , the flood hazard for the Jianghan plain
in Central China , has basically been alleuviated .
Happy Dragonboat Festival .