(June 8, 2011) In the wake of China’s official admission that the Three Gorges dam is beset by “urgent problems”, longtime criticism of the world’s biggest hydroelectric project has moved to the front pages. The Current, aired by the CBC, interviews outspoken opponents of the dam – including Probe International Fellow Dai Qing – to provide a snapshot of the issues surrounding the dam giant: a fast fading symbol of modern China’s rise.
The Three Gorges is an area of astonishing beauty and one of China’s greatest natural wonders. It even appears on Chinese currency, on the back of the ten yuan note. It’s going to take a lot of ten yuan notes to fix the mess created by the Three Gorges dam.
Three Gorges Dam – Jonathan Watts
We started this segment with the sound of one of Mao Zedong’s dreams come true: China’s great river harnessed and turned into the world’s biggest hydroelectric project. The Three Gorges Dam is a showpiece of China’s emergence as a world power and of its ability to re-engineer the landscape. It’s also considered vital to China’s future.
The dam tames the Yangtze River, and provides a much-needed energy source. More than two kilometres long and 185 metres high … the dam and its 26 turbines cost about 23 billion dollars (US) and created a reservoir 660 kilometres long. About a thousand villages and towns were submerged in the process and 1.4 million people forced to relocate.
For years, the government dismissed or silenced protesters who warned the dam would create severe environmental, economic and social hardships. But now, it’s suddenly open season on the Three Gorges Dam. Some Chinese blame the dam for everything from drought to earthquakes. The government admits to “urgent problems.”
Jonathan Watts has covered recent developments as the Asia Environment Correspondent for The Guardian. He’s also the author of When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind – Or Destroy It. We reached Jonathan Watts in Beijing.
Three Gorges Dam – Dai Qing
Well, as we mentioned, the Chinese government has not always been receptive to criticism of the dam. Dai Qing is an investigative journalist in Beijing who was a vocal opponent of plans for the dam in the 1980s. And as she told us, she paid a heavy price for her dissent.
We also asked Dai Qing for her thoughts about the Chinese government’s admission that the dam has caused serious problems. She’s a long-time opponent of the Three Gorges Dam in Beijing.
Three Gorges Dam – Wang Weiluo
Another one of the harsh critics of the Three Gorges Dam is Wang Weiluo. He’s a hydrological engineer who worked on a feasibility study for the project from 1981 to 1985, when he left China to work in Germany. He’s always been opposed to the dam. He told us that the people displaced by the dam have dealt with a lot of hardship and as Jonathan Watts alluded to … there will be a lot more people displaced in the future.
Wang Weiluo says, four or five million more people will be forced from their homes after that. He says that’s largely because of the continued build-up of sediment in the reservoir, which raises water levels and submerges and destabilizes more land. And so, he believes China has three choices.
According to Wang Weiluo, maintaining the dam as it is, or enlarging it, will cost billions of dollars, destroy more of the river and its surrounding landscape. If China waits too long, there will be so much sediment built up in the reservoir that it will be impossible to remove the dam without doing untold damage down river.
Three Gorges Dam – Steven J. Wright
Wang Weiluo is not the only person arguing to dismantle the dam. But if building it was a marvel, then just imagine what an undertaking it would be to dismantle it.
To help get our heads around what would go into taking down a huge dam without doing even more damage downstream, we were joined by Steven J. Wright [PDF]. He’s the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan, and a specialist in water resources engineering. Steven J. Wright was in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
CBC.ca, June 8, 2011
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