The Three Gorges
Qs: Where exactly is it? What are reasons for this project (Economic, Environmental, and Political)? What are the implications for this project (environmental, social and economic)? N.B. information on this project causes controversy – note source and be critical about what you read.
Impacts and Reasons for the Project
* Its generating capacity will be 18.2 million kilowatts, with a yearly power output of 84.7 billion kWh, equivalent to burning 50 million tons of coal or 25 million tons of crude oil.
* When compared to coal-burning facilities of a similar size, the Three Gorges Plant can cut a large amount of carbon dioxide, one to two million tons of sulphuric dioxide, 10,000 tons of carbon monoxide, and 150,000 tons of dust.
* Foreign Financiers have little enthusiasm for Three Gorges, the result has been a heavy drain on taxpayer’s money and local banks. The project needs private funding. Last year, Three Gorges vice president travelled to Hong Kong seeking investors.
* The Yangtze is the world’s third longest river, is one of China’s main transportation routes. One guarantee made by developers of the Three Gorges Project is promised to provide smooth navigation at the construction site during the six-year second phase (1997-2003). A water diversion channel opened formally on October 6. During the next-phase construction through 2003, ships will use the channel to bypass the dam site or use temporary locks now being built on the north bank of the Yangtze.
* The Three Gorges Project, which will be the world’s largest water conservation facility when completed, will take 17 years to build.
* The Three Gorges is one of the world’s most famous scenic sites. It runs in areas around Qutang, Wuxian and Xiling, featuring breathtaking scenery which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from at home and abroad each and every year. The charming scenery will be left untouched following the damming of the mid-section of the Xiling Gorge.
* The climate and environmental protection experts believe that the construction of the Three Gorges Dam will improve the local climate and its surrounding areas. It is hoped it will also be highly conducive to the planting of citrus fruits.
* The area around the Yangtze River project has a mild climate. In extreme weather in winter temperatures there are not less than five degrees below zero centigrade, while the yearly average temperature is above 15 degrees centigrade. In addition, the area’s humidity can be kept at around 80 percent.
Political and Social Reasons
* The Three Gorges Project will relocate 1.2 million residents in the 1,084 sq km-reservoir area, since the reservoir is expected to submerge more than 630 sq km of land behind the Three Gorges Dam.
* Statistics show the incomes of the majority of those resettled people have risen, and the county’s economy is developing at an unprecedented speed. In 1995, agricultural and industrial total output in the county soared 40.5 percent over the previous year.
* It has been a Political ambition for generations to control the River Yangtze. Much of what project opponents had forecasted in 1989 is now in full view for the world to see.
* Construction is currently facing massive corruption (In 2000, 97 officials were punished and one sentenced to death for embezzling funds put aside for the relocation of over a million people whose homes were to be flooded by the dam), spiralling costs, technological problems (including cracks 2mm wide and 5m long) and major resettlement difficulties, all raising questions to the judgment of continuing the project.
The dam will far exceed the official cost estimate, and the investment will be unrecoverable as cheaper power sources become available and lure away ratepayers.
The dam is within budget, and updating the transmission grid will increase demand for its electricity and allow the dam to pay for itself.
Relocated people are worse off than before and their human rights are being violated.
15 million people downstream will be better off due to electricity and flood control.
Water pollution and deforestation will increase, the coastline will be eroded and the altered ecosystem will further endanger many species.
Hydroelectric power is cleaner than coal burning and safer than nuclear plants, and steps will be taken to protect the environment.
Local culture and natural beauty
The reservoir will flood many historical sites and ruin the legendary scenery of the gorges and the local tourism industry.
Many historical relics are being moved, and the scenery will not change that much.
Heavy silt will clog ports within a few years and negate improvements to navigation.
Shipping will become faster, cheaper and safer as the rapid waters are tamed and ship locks are installed.
Technological advancements have made hydro dams obsolete, and a decentralized energy market will allow ratepayers to switch to cheaper, cleaner power supplies.
The alternatives are not viable yet and there is a huge potential demand for the relatively cheap hydroelectricity.
Siltation will decrease flood storage capacity, the dam will not prevent floods on tributaries, and more effective flood control solutions are available.
The huge flood storage capacity will lessen the frequency of major floods. The risk that the dam will increase flooding is remote.
Locations are largely split, downstream and upstream. The upstream normally has the cost and the downstream has the benefits. Mainly the cost is in rural areas and as the electricity is needed in an industrial area the benefits go to urban areas that are downstream.
People that disagree with the idea, that it is fair to move a relatively small number of people to benefit many people. Per capita wealth is low, rising quickly, is a project like this going to be suited to an LEDCs? A significant question is whether or not the development is sustainable.
Hydrology – Yangtze River flows to Shanghai into Gongan County and led to a massive flooding in these areas. The alluvium carried in the river destroys the crops and can lead to famine and starvation. Alluvium also leaves behind a think layer and silt ruins the fields meaning that future crops are cut back and can be devastating for both trade and for growing a subsistent amount of crops. Labour is the main resource in this area and therefore a loss of people is a massive impact on the area, and the displacement of people that was caused by the massive flood led to lack of people to work the land.
Climatic – 50 million tonnes of coal is the equivalent per year of the production of the HEP. China is the largest producer and users of coal, so to generate the electricity this way means the environment is saved as is the coal that would have been used. Now this coal can be used for other developments.
Tectonics- the weight of the dam and the weight of water behind it could result in an earthquake. The weight may crash the rock and the enormous volume of water could seep into enormous fault lines and lubricate them meaning that they can slip more easily across one another leading to an earthquake. This is a Quasi-Natural occurrence. The sheer weight such a huge volume of water could cause such an earthquake too.