November 28, 2007

Cracks at the Seams? China Bolsters Three Gorges

Everything about the Three Gorges Dam seems larger than life.

It was built at a cost of $15.6 billion, caused the relocation of 1.2 million people, and has 19 hydropower generators that are expected by 2009 to produce 84.7 million megawatt-hours of electricity each year.

And now, with increasing reports of landslides and environmental problems around the dam, thoughts of a larger-than-life disaster have come to the fore.

China’s project director for the dam, Wang Xiaofeng, said in a press conference that the current environmental problems caused by the dam have been anticipated and planned for.

But concerns persist about a variety of issues, including water pollution, and the safety of the surrounding landscape

According to the International Herald Tribune, the latest press conference contrasts with a forum in the city of Wuhan in September in which state officials warned of “catastrophe” if environmental issues were not addressed.

Agence France-Presse reports that since then, China’s government-controlled press has produced “virtually only good news” about the dam.

This was borne out at the most recent press conference. Even while acknowledging problems, Wang took a positive approach, reasserting the environmental benefits of hydropower over fossil fuels, and citing improved flood control along the Yangtze River.

Officials at the earlier conference said that erosion and the sheer weight of the water itself has spurred landslides all around the structure.

Critics said a recent landslide that killed 31 bus passengers people was caused by the dam, though the government has not confirmed this.

According to the Tribune report, scientists say the high water levels put pressure on landforms surrounding the dam, seeping into rock, and causing “some, if not all, of the recent geological activity in the region.”

Sources:

“China vigorously defends Three Gorges Dam project”
International Herald Tribune, November 27, 2007

“China seeks to quell fears over Three Gorges Dam disasters”
Agence France-Presse, November 27, 2007

“China Three Gorges Dam Spending Reaches $15.6 Billion”
Bloomberg, November 27, 2007

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