The Three Gorges Dam is a dam built on the middle of the Yangtze River, near the town of Sandouping. It is the largest dam in the world with the largest reservoir (600km+) and dam length (2km) and was completed in 2012, after almost 20 years of construction. It generates 98.8 TWH of electricity annually which is enough to power almost 10% of Chinese households and industries. It also creates a huge separation in water levels along the river, and can control the water level through gates and barriers preventing flooding from happening which used to claim thousands of lives each decade, and flood countless of acres of farmland. However, being the largest clean energy producing plant in the world has come with a big price, and the question on everyone’s mind is, was it worth it? Many believe so, but personally I think all the economic benefits are nothing compared to the environmental impacts, that are very likely to get worse as time goes on. The dam was initially planned to cost $ 26 Billion USD and be completed in 2009, but huge complications with human rights violations and corruption, plus the deaths of 465 workers caused the dam to have enormous economic setbacks.
It eventually cost $ 35 Billion USD and was only fully operational in 2012, with the ship lift only being completed in 2015. To make space for the reservoir and dam hundreds of kilometres of land were flooded, forcing 1.2 million people to relocate. 13 cities, 140 towns, and more than 1,500 villages were submerged, along with hundreds of archaeological and religious sites, which has taken away from the natural beauty of the Three Gorges. Hundreds of old mines, factories and waste dumps in the area were also submerged causing huge amounts of toxic chemicals to enter the water making the water quality a lot worse, and unusable by people living along the river. The presence of huge industrial centres upstream is also causing a huge amount of silt, rubbish and industrial pollutants to be caught in the river. To create the dam, the level of the water was also raised by more than 130m, and is constantly being altered to make sure there are no floods. Though this is a good thing, it is also very dangerous because the land around which the river lies on is becoming a lot weaker and unpredictable due to water infiltrating constantly into the soil. This has caused a huge increase in landslides and erosion, and many people’s houses are being affected as well. People are worried that these geographical hazards will continue to increase and become more drastic and the future of the 400 million people living around the river will become at serious risk.
However, despite these huge negative impacts that have plagued the millions living around the dam, the dam has also created huge opportunities for China and its people and has had a positive impact on China’s emissions and energy production. The dam is the most efficient dam in the world with 32 turbines producing huge amounts of energy everyday. This energy is used by millions all over China, and has had a huge impact on China’s use of non renewable energy sources. The energy from the dam saves the use of 31 million tonnes of coal per year, and has allowed China to cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions by 210 million tones per year. The construction of the dam also took a very long time, giving jobs to thousands of poor Chinese people and has allowed them to get a stable position in which they can provide for their families. Many people also have jobs now working at the dam in important positions, and control the world’s largest renewable energy plant. However, the biggest impact of them all has been on the flooding, which used to claim the lives of thousands of people every decade, and force millions to have to relocate. Farmland was also submerged in huge amounts forcing many people to lose everything they had, and forcing them into poverty. However, with the dam, the water level can be controlled during periods of heavy rain due to barriers being able to let water into the reservoir, and lower the overall height of the river. This lowers the risk of huge flooding from once every decade to once every century, which will have a huge impact on the 400 million living on the rivers banks, in the long run.
To conclude, the dam has had huge positive and negative impacts environmentally, socially and economically, and it’s hard to say if the creation of the dam was the right decision to make. However, in order to make sure that the dam is controlled and does not lead to one of the worst disasters of all time, it needs to be heavily monitored. Making sure that the dam stays stable and the land does not erode completely should be one of the biggest priorities for the Chinese government, and as long as they pay significant attention to it, it could turn out to be one of the greatest technological marvels of our time, and set an example to the rest of the world as to what the real potential is of renewable energy, and what kind of an impact it can have.
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