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Experts hail Three Gorges project, deny link to disasters

2013-12-14 10:00 Xinhua Web Editor: Wang Fan

Experts hailed the benefits of the Three Gorges project after the world's largest hydropower station has been successfully operating for a decade.

Shen Guofang, former vice president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said the project has yielded enormous benefits in terms of water control, power generation, and water transport.

The Three Gorges project is a multi-functional water control system consisting of a 2,309-meter-long, 185-meter-high dam, a five-tier ship lock and 26 hydropower generators.

From the occasion when the construction plan of the Three Gorges project was proposed to the time after the construction was finished, controversies never die down.

The construction plan was passed by the National People's Congress (NPC), or the top legislature, in April 1992 even after nearly one third NPC delegates opposed it or abstained from voting.

Construction on the project, which cost over 200 billion yuan (33 billion U.S. dollars), began in December 14, 1994. ( After nine-year construction, the dam's first generator went into operation in July 2003. The last generator started operating in July last year.

Some 1.3 million people have been relocated to make way for the project.

"Each project has its own impacts on the environment. But any approval of construction plans should hinge on whether the pros exceed the cons or vice versa," said Shen.

After the project was finished, the Jingjiang section, the most dangerous part of the Yangtze River, the country's longest, could withstand the worst flooding in 100 years, compared to the most serious in a decade before, Shen said.

The Three Gorges reservoir has a designed water storage capacity of 39.3 billion cubic meters after the water level rises to a designed ceiling of 175 meters.

In the raining season, it stores water to ease flooding pressure downstream. While in the dry season, it discharges water to alleviate drought downstream.

When the reservoir received the largest ever flood crest of 71,200 cubic meters per second in July last year, it only discharged 43,000 cubic meters of water downstream, Shen said, adding this helped ensure safety in downstream areas.

With an installed capacity of 22.5 million kw, the largest among hydropower stations worldwide, the project helps save energy and curb air pollution by churning out clean power, Shen said.

The Three Gorges hydropower station had generated 629 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity by 2012, equivalent to the saving of 217 million tonnes of coal, according to the China Three Gorges Corporation. It helped cut emission of carbon dioxide by 490 million tonnes and that of sulfur dioxide by 5.9 million tonnes.

Meanwhile, the project improved transport conditions in 660-km-long waterway from Chongqing to Yichang to allow much bigger cargo ships to sail from Shanghai to Chongqing, said Cao Guangjing, chairman of the China Three Gorges Corporation.

The throughput of the five-tier ship lock of the Three Gorges Dam exceeded 100 million tonnes for the first time in 2011, 5.6 times of the volume before the dam was constructed and meeting the throughput target for 2030, Cao said.

Despite the benefits, there are lingering worries that the project could have negative impacts on environment and climate change, and could lead to more geological disasters and even earthquakes.

"It is normal to have different views on such a massive project, but some arguments lack common sense of science," said Gao Anze, former chief engineer of the Ministry of Water Resources. "It is wrong to blame all issues on the project."

Some believe the dam obstructs the atmospheric circulation and could bring extreme weather like severe drought to surrounding regions, Gao cited an example as saying.

"The atmospheric circulation occurs in the sky thousands of meters high and how could a 185-meter-high dam obstruct it," Gao said.

"Accusations like this do not have scientific basis and will not help nurture objective evaluations on the impacts of the Three Gorges project," Gao said.

However, Gao said that he worried about the clearer water flowing downstream after large amount of sediment is intercepted and deposited by the dam, which leads to lower water level as against unchanged flows in the lower reach of the Yangtze River.

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