Hubei, China.– Controlling and taming the powerful waters of the Yangtze River has, for centuries, been a fundamental part of China’s history. Construction on the Three Gorges Dam began in 1993 in response to the growing energy needs of the region, home to Asia’s biggest river, and to combat the floods that swept away everything in their path.
Proposed by Mao Zedong in the 1950s, in September 2016 - 23 years after the project was launched - the Chinese government announced the completion of the mega-structure which features 32 turbine generators, a system of two-way locks, and a ship elevator.
With a yearly generating capacity of 100 billion kilowatt hours of clean energy, equal to burning 50 billion tons of coal, the Three Gorges hydroelectric power plant, located in the city of Yichang, Hubei province, is contributing to mitigating the effects of global warming and preventing acid rain, explained Peng Minnin, a worker at the dam.
Measuring 6,300 kilometers, the Yangtze is China’s longest river and supplies the world’s second economic power with 53.4% of its hydro-energy exports.
The construction of the dam has provided great benefits for the region and country, including clean energy, improvements in shipping, and greater flood control.
According to experts from this state enterprise, in 2016, the Three Gorges produced 94.2 billion kilowatt hours of power, supplying clean energy to 130 million families in south, east, and central China.
Despite being able to satisfy half the population’s energy needs, the facility currently only generates 3% of the country’s clean energy.
As such, Peng noted that although the dam is the largest of its kind in the world, the Three Gorges doesn’t produce the most energy: first place in this regard goes to the Itaipú Dam on the Paraná River. “The hydroelectric plant isn’t currently operating at 100% of capacity, because the Yangtze riverbed must be protected.”
Meanwhile, this monumental work, which cost the Chinese government between 22.5 and 40 billion dollars in 1993, can store 39.3 billion cubic meters of water and has a flood control capacity of 22.15 billion cubic meters, protecting the 50 million citizens who live along the Yangtze’s shores.
The 185 meter high and 2,309 meter-long dam has 32 turbine generators, each able to produce 700 megawatt hours of power, as well as two others with a capacity of 50 MW; while the plant generates a total of 22,500 MW of electricity for national consumption.
However, the Three Gorges is more than just a hydroelectric project. Twenty-three years after work began, on September 18, 2016, the project officially concluded with the launch of one final detail: a ship elevator.
Until then, the only way ships and river traffic could bypass the dam was via a system of five locks, a process which took about four hours.
The Yangtze is a congested river highway, full of both passenger and cargo ships. As such the new elevator will allow vessels weighing a maximum of 3,000 tons to cross the 113 meter stretch separating the river and the dam in less than 40 minutes, according to the institution.
Designed by Chinese and German engineers, the world’s biggest elevator, as it has been dubbed, is currently in the testing phase.
SOCIAL & ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
According to Peng Minnin, the impact the project would have on ecosystems and the lives of inhabitants was a priority throughout the process.
“The construction of the project served to improve local infrastructure and living conditions in the areas around the Yangtze,” she stated.
Peng went on to explain that the government invested 39.2 billion yuans in efforts to control water pollution in the region. Clean-up efforts were also carried out in the area before, during, and after construction, while a system to replace dirty water with clean, was created.
She noted that efforts are currently underway to artificially revive populations of several fish species which have been notably affected by the construction of the Dam.
Meanwhile, over 50% of the project’s total cost went toward relocating 1.4 million people to other areas in the province of Hubei, in order for the dam to be built.
A TOURIST ATTRACTION
As famous as it is controversial, the dam gets its name from the zone located close to the Yangtze River, composed of three gorges: the Qu Tang, Xi Ling and Wu.
This undeniable tourist attraction for the region, which thousands of years ago was home to the Tujia community - also known the Three Gorges tribe - of the ancient Ba and Chi culture - now also features a series of structures from where ordinary citizens can admire this impressive feat of engineering, up close.