Three Gorges Probe

News briefs

April 7, 1999



(i) Three Gorges Project Gets Official Cold Shoulder

[TGP, 03/99] In his annual government work report delivered to the recent meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji failed to mention the on-going controversial Three Gorges dam project.

This is in a sharp contrast with his predecessor Li Peng who always heaped praise and paid special attention to the world’s largest hydro-electric dam in his annual speech, according to a story distributed in the Chinese Internet.

The Chinese media which covered the discussions in the National Annual Assembly had little coverage of the Yangtze dam this year. The only person still beating the drum for the project appears to be Li Peng, who now chairs the National Congress.

To keep the subject alive, Li mentioned Three Gorges on March 8 at a meeting with delegates to the NPC from Chongqing municipality. This super city was formed in 1997 to operate under the direct control of the central government, and to facilitate construction of the Three Gorges Project.

During the meeting Li, a Russia-trained hydrologist, stressed that the future development opportunities for the city lie in the Yangtze dam project.

In comparison, Zhu Rongji has not shown support for the project. He made the first visit to the dam’s construction site only last December, a detour on his way to inspect flood-relief work in Hubei and Chongqing.

An anonymous article distributed through the Internet says that Zhu turned down a request for more government funding by the Three Gorges Project Development Corporation, the sole contractor of the project last year. However, he agreed that the Corporation could raise money by issuing bonds.

The project currently is short of $3.01 billion to cover its total cost of $9.64 billion to the year 2003.

(ii) Major Defects Uncovered in Dam Construction

[TGP, 03/99] Several major problems have occurred in the construction of the Three Gorges dam, according to a report in the Chinese media.

The story lists four major defects discovered in the project construction, all of them related to concrete cement casting.

First, forty-eight cracks in the dam diversion ditch have appeared. They are reportedly caused by a lack of pressure during casting.

Second, there is a large hollow space — affecting an estimated 90 square metres — in the concrete Section 11 of the dam on the left shore. Flooding tests show that this construction defect has created a 16 metre long passage, through which water infiltrates from the dam crest to the foundation.

Third, the concrete strength is much less than designed in Section 5 of the dam on the right shore. This is caused by a deficient amount of cement, which the builders say was caused by a miscalculation of the computer software.

The fourth defect is on the inside section of the coffer dam: the level of water leakage far exceeds the design standard.

The report says that several solutions have been attempted to correct these defects. Some experts suggested that Section 11 with the 90-square-metre hollow should be blown up and replaced. But the plan was later shelved because of concern that an explosion might damage the rest of the dam. Dam officials finally decided to fortify this section with a two-metre thick protection plate made of reinforced concrete cement.

(iii) Unsold Power at Gezhouba Dam Plant

[CND, 03/99] The Gezhouba dam hydro-electric plant, just downstream of Three Gorges on the Yangtze River, reported a oversupply of power last year, says a story of the Internet news service of China News Digest.

The plant registered a loss of 100 million yuan (US$12.5 million) in revenue in 1998 because 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity could not be sold.

Energy specialists insist that the problem does not indicate an oversupply of electricity in the Yangtze Valley, but rather a structural problem that there are too many middle organizations between the power producer and consumers. Each organization wants a share in the power industry. This results in a high price of electricity, too high for consumers to buy.

The Gezhouba dam is 40 kilometres downstream of the Three Gorges dam project, now under construction. It was built in the mid-1970s as a test for the more ambitious Three Gorges dam.

(iv) Relic Protection Lacks Funding

[TGP, 03/99] A wealth of historic relics in the Three Gorges area may be submerged forever as the rescue project in Chongqing city lacks funding to remove them to safe places, a story in China’s Three Gorges Newspaper reports.

Officials in charge of the relic protection in the city estimated the total rescue cost to be as high as 1.9 billion yuan (US$238 million). To date, they have received only 16 million yuan (US$2 million).

By the year 2003, the water level behind the Yangtze dam would be raised to 135 metres. About 883 sites of historical and cultural significance dating back to the early Chinese civilization of 5,000-6,000 years ago would be flooded. These sites include ancient caves, cemeteries, stone sculptures, buildings and temples. So far, local teams have been able to remove only six percent of these relics to safe places.

Guan Weilang, professor of history at the Chongqing Teachers’ College, believes that the gigantic task of relic protection in the Three Gorges area is impossible to implement even with sufficient funding. At most, only 10 percent of what will be submerged can be protected, given the time constraint, he says.

Conflicts between the relic protection organizations and construction and engineering departments are believed to be slowing down the rescue work. Relic protection officials insist that they should be in full control of the rescue project and funding. Meanwhile construction and engineering planners think that the current rescue plan is too extensive and costly and should focus on ancient sites dating back to 1,000 years ago and before. In the project budget approved by the government in 1993, funding for relic rescue was set at 300 million yuan (US$37.5 million). Many relic experts believe that amount is grossly inadequate.

Three Gorges Probe welcomes submissions. However, it is not a forum for political debate. Rather, Three Gorges Probe is dedicated to covering the scientific, technical, economic, social, and environmental ramifications of completing the Three Gorges Project, as well as the alternatives to the dam.

Publisher: Patricia Adams Executive Editor: Mu Lan ISSN 1481-0913

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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