The Three Gorges Dam

File:Drei-Schluchten-Damm (Jangtse).jpg

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The statistics are insane: China’s Three Gorges Dam, completed in 2012, is the largest hydroelectric project in the world. The dam has an installed capacity of 20.3 billion watts of electricity, the largest hydro-electrical capacity in the world, ahead of the Itaipu Dam in Brazil and Paraguay (14 billion watts). The dam wall is 594 ft. tall and stretches 7,661 ft. (1.45 mi.). The TGD is the world’s largest by holding capacity (nearly 32 billion acre-feet) and has created a reservoir 370 miles long (for the record, that’s longer than Lake Superior) with an average elevation of 570 ft. above sea level.

The electricity generated by Three Gorges will go a long way to shutting down China’s coal-fired power plants, notorious for the air pollution they caused, and the reservoir should finally end the devastating floods that people along the lower Yangtze River have endured throughout history (300,000 people killed during the 20th century alone).

The problems with the dam have been manifold: 1) silting (addressed now by China’s massive forest-planting program); 2) pollution of the reservoir; 3) landslides along the reservoir shoreline; 4) the relocation of more than a million former residents along the river; 5) the functional extinction of the Yangtse River Dolphin (the Baiji); and 6) the loss of undiscovered archaeological sites along the river.

Is the TGD worth it? Would the construction of a series of smaller dams along tributaries have provided the same benefits without the ecological problems? RT guesses that wiser is not always better: the appeal of the Three Gorges Dam to the imagination is surely part of this calculation, and the scope of the project speaks to our sense of drama. RT has a hunch that this grand gamble on the part of the Chinese government will pay off.

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Photo: Three Gorges Dam (Yangtze), Author: gugganij. WikiCmns; CC 1.0 Generic.

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