May 20, 2006
Article excerpt: At a time when many countries are questioning the benefits of damming their rivers to harness electricity, China’s government has announced it is almost finished building the World’s largest dam.
At the time of conception in the 80s, the Three Gorges [dam] was hailed as a way to provide electricity cheaply, and with minimal amounts of pollution. Along the way, proponents championed the fact that the dam would also help regulate the spring flooding that have wreaked havoc on communities along the Yangtze.
[But] a chorus of critics have questioned all these points. “What’s the result? First, it’s the huge cost from resources and environment, and who will take the cost? It’s the ordinary people,” environmental activist Dai Qing told CTV News.
While they acknowledge hydroelectric dams in theory run cleaner than coal, which China relies heavily on, there are other polluting concerns. Scientists point out the reservoir created behind the dam has become a cesspool of human and toxic waste.
Environmentalists like Dai believe it is threatening the drinking water of major cities like Chongqing.
“The Yangtze used to be so clear, I could drop a pen and see it float to the bottom, but now it’s a dirty muddy river, and the water is no longer good for drinking,” says Dai.
The towns that were flooded over during the building of the dam were never cleaned of toxic waste, she says. “There was never a budget for clean-up. On the bottom of the reservoir, there is now hospital, factory, pig and animal waste. It will all be stirred up.” …
Because leaders view the Three Gorges project as an important symbol of China’s new status as a world economic power, Dai believes the government is quick to silence any dissent on the matter. Several Chinese journalists have been jailed for writing articles criticizing its building.
“The dam for the government shows the world that the Chinese are mighty, we have the world’s largest dam,” says Dai.
In reality, the dam will now only provide about 2 percent of China’s electricity by 2010. And the significance of using dams for energy is being debated by the United States along with several European nations. The argument always goes back to the environmental harm such projects create.
When it comes to the Three Gorges, Canadians have been on both sides of the debate. Canadian engineers have offered studies supporting the dam. Canadian branches of companies such as GE and Siemens have provided turbine generators for the project.
On the other side, groups such as Probe International have led the fight against the hydroelectric project, helping to train Chinese environmentalists on how to take up the cause.
But the Three Gorges debate is now purely academic. The dam is already built, and will be fully operational by 2008. The government steadfastly argues that all environmental concerns have been addressed. Still, it will be another twenty years before the full impact will be known. But for Dai Qing, who’s been jailed, and subjected to years of police monitoring and harassment, it’s been worth it. “We have learned from this fight, and it’s taught us how to do it better for future dams.” Read the full story [PDF].
Categories: Three Gorges Probe