In 1992, China started the construction of what is now the largest hydroelectric dam on the planet, the Three Gorges Dam. Considered as the nation’s largest construction feat since the Great Wall, the monumental project on the Yangtze River attracted the attention of engineers and environmentalists both at home and abroad because of its social and environmental consequences.
The dam was designed to create a reservoir that is hundreds of feet deep and 400 miles long, enabling large ocean freighters to sail directly inside the country to support its growing agricultural and manufacturing industries. It was also designed to provide for the country’s energy needs by supplying electricity equivalent to those provided by 18 nuclear plants.
With all these good intentions, however, the project was not able to avoid scrutiny. Allegations of corruption, fears of shoddy construction, and concerns over its environmental and social impacts were raised. Even until today, three years after the dam’s completion in July 2012, the debate continues.
Certainly, there are advantages and disadvantages to the dam’s construction. So before we take a side on the issues, let us take a look at its pros and cons.
List of Pros of Three Gorges Dam
1. Frequent Flooding Was Prevented.
The problem with frequent flooding that threatened the Yangtze delta every summer was eliminated.
2. Creation of Renewable Energy.
The major benefit offered by the Three Gorges Dam to China was the growth of renewable energy. Its 26 hydropower turbines produce more than 18,000 megawatts of energy – providing an amazing 10% of the country’s total energy needs.
3. Wider Water Network.
The river’s widening made it navigable to large freighter. It enables ocean-going ships to reach 1,500 miles inland to Chongqing, one of China’s national center cities.
List of Cons of Three Gorges Dam
1. Environmental Damage.
One of the reasons the dam was constructed was to control floods that threaten the Yangtze delta every summer. The project, however, has proven itself environmentally controversial because it has resulted into the flooding of more than 1,000 nearby towns and villages. Not to mention, the dam’s construction consumed a total of 26.43 million cubic meters of concrete. These materials are poured into the giant barrier across the Yangtze river to create a gigantic structure that destroys the river bed and poisons water supplies by disrupting the watershed. The Chinese government themselves acknowledge last year that the dam poses serious geological, human and ecological problems.
2. Forced Relocation of People.
Here’s a fact, the Chinese government relocated 1.3 million people during the 17-year construction of the Three Gorges Dam. And just when we thought that we have seen the last of thems, hundreds of families have been relocated again earlier this year to avoid the threat of landslides along the dam’s bank. Their number is expected to increase as the expansion of the dam continues.
3. Destruction of Habitat and Forced Migration of Animals.
Humans are not the only one affected. The destruction of habitat and the pollution of water also forced animals to migrate.
Taking into account the pros and cons discussed above, we can conclude that the Three Gorges Dam is both a boon and a bane to Asia’s largest country and economy.