Sucheta Dalal :Three Gorges dam wall complete. Final project works to be finished in 2008
Sucheta Dalal

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Three Gorges dam wall complete. Final project works to be finished in 2008  

May 25, 2006

(CNN) -- Chinese workers have completed construction work on the world's largest hydroelectric project, according to reports in state media.


Three Gorges dam wall complete

Final project works to be finished in 2008


From Stan Grant dated 20 May 2006


Building crews on Saturday put the finishing touches on the main dam structure -- a 185-meter-high (607 feet), 2,309-meter-long (1.4-mile-long) wall across the Yangtze River.


There is still much work to do however before the controversial project is fully operational.


The government-backed company that runs the dam said earlier this week that the final 12 of the dam's 26 generators are to be installed over the next two years, finishing the project in 2008, a year ahead of schedule, The Associated Press reports.


When completed, massive generators will pump out energy equivalent to 15 nuclear power plants, generating 18 gigawatts of hydropower when it is complete.


Its transmission range is 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), allowing the Chinese to do away with dirty coal fuel and potentially providing millions with reliable electricity.


Located near the town of Sandouping in the central province of Hubei, it has been 17 years in the making at a cost of $25 billion, and at its peak 30,000 workers toiled on taming China's longest and mightiest river.


"It's a race against time, yes, you can't relax? No," says Cao Guangjing, vice president of the Three Gorges Project.


Only 38 years old, Cao has been the man in charge of pulling all this together and he has delivered.


While the project was originally slated to cost $10.8 billion, construction has been brought in nine months ahead of schedule, with the world's biggest flood control and hydropower station due to be fully operational by 2009.


While it is an impressive feat, with the government boasting it will not only provide clean energy but allow it to control floods, it is not one without criticism.


Environmentalists are concerned that slowing the river's flow will increase pollution and silting.


Activist Dai Qing has long campaigned against the dam, citing damage to the environment.


The reservoir created by the dam has inundated nearly 600 kilometers (370 miles) of land, including two cities, 11 counties and 116 towns in Hubei and neighboring Chongqing municipality.


"It's too huge. What critics say is stop it, don't have it, keep the river, but no, this is a political project," says Dai.


Critics say the damming of the Yangtze will increase pollution and the spread of disease.


Lei Henshun is a retired professor and respected environmental expert and he is concerned about the varying water levels of the river.


During the dry winter months it will be kept at 175 meters to maximize hydropower, but in summer it will be lowered to 145 meters to allow for the flood season.


"Some special problems will show up because a large area will be exposed in summer and then the garbage, plants, dirty mud will easily become disease breeding grounds," says Lei.


Looking at the river now, it is a muddy brown color, medical waste is visible along with floating debris and even the bodies of dead animals.


But Chinese officials say don't believe your eyes.


"Monitoring results obtained by the environmental department show that with the rise of the water level, the quality of water has in fact improved instead of deteriorated," says Cao.


Then there are the people, forcibly removed from their homes as villages and towns have been submerged.


More than a million people have been displaced and 1,599 factories submerged.

Many complain they don't want to move, and in any case, can not afford it.


"How to solve our life problems? We have no place to live and many of us are old people and children," says one local.


Yet in China the past must make way for progress. The dam will provide much needed power and help with flood prevention.


The project stands as a symbol of China's precarious balance between nature and the future.












-- Sucheta Dalal