The Three Gorges Dam - Disaster or end to Disaster?

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The Three Gorges Dam - Disaster or End to Disaster?

The Three Gorges Dam, on the Yangtse River in China, is probably one of the largest and most ambitious building projects ever undertaken. Situated near Yichang, in the central province of Hubei, the dam will be the largest in the world, and will, in the words of the Chinese government "confirm China's technological prowess and the superiority of socialism". The Dam will be over 2km long and 185m high, the world's largest piece of concrete on the world's biggest building site, creating a reservoir that will stretch back 660km along the river. The scope of the dam, and everything about it, is enormous. The impact of the dam will be colossal and far-reaching, thanks to its many benefits and disadvantages. The project is set to be finished by the year 2009, and the world waits with trepidation for its completion and possible effects.

The dam has a number of purposes, namely the production of hydroelectric power, and the subsequent economic growth due to this, improvements in navigation on the Yangtse, and greater control over floodwaters and flooding downriver.

Cheap Hydroelectric power could be a very good thing for China, a country that has relied heavily on power from coal for many years. This clean power source could set an example to other countries, encouraging them to find alternative power sources instead of depending so much on fossil fuels. However, if the dam was to prove a failure, then it might discourage other countries from building hydroelectric dams, and possibly other renewable energy sources. Either way, the dam could set an example for developing countries and how nations across the world obtain their energy. The new, cheap power could also provide massive incentive for economic growth in China. Large amounts of power being produced will mean that industry in an around the area, and all over the country, will thrive, providing new jobs and more money, and will help China in its aim to reduce the numbers of people living on farms and increase the urban population.

The only problem is that there is considerable economic uncertainty; no one really wants to stake their fortune and invest in a project that may never be worthwhile. The new growth may, in fact, cancel out the benefits of clean power, because the more the economy grows, the greater its power demands will become, and more coal will have to be burned to provide them with it. So the dam could actually create more fossil fuel reliance than it gets rid of. Some argue that the area around the dam already has all the power it needs, and the construction of the dam will result in power being wasted. In all, the dam will produce some 18,000 megawatts of electricity, the equivalent of 40 million tonnes of coal, per year. Another figure being used by the Chinese government is that the dam will be the equal of around eighteen nuclear power plants, a statistic they are probably using in an effort to appease disgruntled environmentalists.

The Government of China has also put forward the idea that the dam will greatly improve navigation along certain stretches of the river, providing an easily navigable reservoir and a new lock system to get ships up the steep slopes of the three gorges region. Potentially, such improvements could be of great use and importance, allowing for greater trade and easier, safer shipping, lowering goods costs due to simpler and quicker transportation. However, the dam will result in heavy silt clogging many ports or flooding them entirely, the new lock system will take hours for ships to travel through and trade may be severely impaired. These problems could negate the improvements made.

Another claim being made is that the dam will help control flooding and hold back floodwaters. The southern plains through which the Yangtse runs have for many years suffered from terrible floods, local residents have had to construct dykes and flood defences, and remove clay deposits...
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