In 1919, Nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen envisioned the construction of a large dam across the Yangtze River capable of generating 30 million horsepower. When the Communists took over in 1949, Mao Zedong – the leader of the revolution – supported the project and even went as far as writing a poem about dam on the Yangtze River. However, the project was never realized in his lifetime partly due to economic troubles that included the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The 80s saw renewed interest in the dam and construction began in 1994. By 2012, the dam was technically complete.
Although the dam is now fully operational – and has been for years – it has been the source of much concern. There were concerns raised by activists and scientists even before the dam was constructed. Human rights activists expressed concern over the residents who would be forced to relocate just to build the dam. Scientists – both foreign and Chinese – have also warned about the potential danger of the dam for remaining residents and the effect of the dam on the environment.
However, none of the concerns were heard and the building of the $24-billion dam carried on. Intended to prevent floods from occurring downstream as well as to generate 18,000 megawatts of power, the project experienced a confirmation of warnings given years ago. Nine years after construction began, the reservoir was filled with 445 feet of water and a month after, around 700 million cubic feet of rock made its way into the Qinggan River, two miles away from where it pours into the Yangtze. As a result, 65-foot waves were created which led to the death of 14 people.
Despite this, construction continued as did the problems. The Three Gorges Dam continues to operate to this day and is a major source of renewable power for China. Was it worth it to build a dam on the Yangtze just for the sake of clean energy? Or is the dam a recipe for disaster?
List of Advantages of Three Gorges Dam
1. It is meant to reduce coal consumption.
China is heavily reliant on coal and the effects of this are experienced in several of the nation’s major cities. In 2015, over 200 flights from Beijing had to be canceled because of limited visibility. The air quality in the city was described as “severely” polluted while Shanghai was “heavily” polluted.
China’s air pollution issue has driven the public to ask the government to do something – and quick – about improving air quality. Although 17,000 companies were shut down for pollution offenses and more than 20,000 were told to halt operations in October 2015, it’s clear that more needs to be done.s
The Three Gorges Dam could reduce coal consumption by 31 million tonnes per year. Not only that, the dam will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, dust, sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, carbon monoxide and mercury. Using hydropower allows the nation to rely less on coal from Northern China. From 2003 to 2007, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide were reduced.
List of Disadvantages of Three Gorges Dam
1. It causes death and destruction.
The dam has already caused trouble even before it started operations. Scientists have warned that building a massive hydropower dam in an area that is heavily populated, home to endangered plants and animals and sits on geologic fault lines is a recipe for disaster. These warnings indeed came into fruition.
After a 65-foot wave was created – and killed 14 people – as a result of rock sliding into the Qinggan after water was put in the dam, several other disastrous incidents have occurred. A lot of landslides have occurred along the 20-mile stretch of riverbank. Even worse, the ground near the entrance of a railway tunnel in Badong County (located near a tributary to the Three Gorges reservoir) gave out and as a result, 4,000 cubic yards of earth and rock spilled onto a highway, buried a bus and killed 30 people.
The landslides that have occurred have been proven to be directly linked to the reservoir, particularly when water was being added as the change in water pressure disturbed the land. When the water level in the reservoir was lowered for summer floods in 2007, the village of Miaohe (10 miles upstream of the Yangtze) had land split into a wide open crack 655 feet wide.
2. It can lead to earthquakes.
Triggering an earthquake is one of the major concerns for the dam. The Three Gorges dam sits on two major faults, the Jiuwanxi and the Zigui-Badong. When water level changes, the faults are strained. As a result, fault activity intensifies and induces earthquakes.
Reservoir-induced seismicity was what many scientists believed happened at the Croville Dam in California. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Croville was the largest earthen dam in the US. It was built in the 1950s along an active fault line and was filled in 1968. When the water supply was restored to full capacity seven years later, an unusual series of earthquakes were felt in the area. Not a lot of damage was done, however, as the area was not highly populated.
In China, however, earthquakes have been proven to be connected to hydropower plants, especially those located in river basins that are densely populated and are seismically active. At least 19 earthquakes have been blamed on dams by scientists including the 6.1 magnitude earthquake near the Xinfengjiang Dam in Guangdong province. And many fear that the Three Gorges Dam may be next.
3. It affects biodiversity.
Some percentage of the vascular plants in the world is found in China. Not only that, half of the animal and plant species in China – including the beloved giant panda – could not be found elsewhere. Twenty percent of Chinese seed plants alone are found in the Three Gorges area.
Biodiversity is threatened as the dam can flood habitats and reduce water flow. Not only that, it can also change weather patterns. Even worse, economic development has led to deforestation and pollution in Central China resulting in the endangerment of other plant species.
Crystal Lombardo has been a staff writer for Future of Working for five years. She is a proud veteran and mother. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our editor-in-chief a message here.