There is an excellent front page article on the Three Gorges Dam in the Aug. 29 edition of the Wall Street Journal.   In The Coming China Wars, I discuss the problems with the Three Gorges Dam in detail.  Here’s an excerpt:

Today, the poster child for China’s dam-happy proclivities is the Three Gorges Dam, an undeniable engineering feat. Three Gorges is 181 meters tall, or almost 600 feet tall. It stretches 2.3 kilometers (almost a mile and a half) across the Yangtze. With a volume of 26 million cubic meters or more than 30 million cubic yards, it will stretch more than 350 miles upstream and inundate an area the size of Switzerland.

The dam has a ship lift with a carrying capacity of 11,500 tons that is more than twice the height of any existing ship lift. Three Gorges also sports the largest hydroelectric station in the world, with an installed capacity equal to about 15 large nuclear power plants—18,200 megawatts.

At present, the Three Gorges Dam is basking in the glow of its apparent success. Mind-boggling in its size and audacity, and often likened to China’s modern-day version of the “Great Wall,” it is providing desperately needed electricity as the country faces widespread electricity shortages. It has even become a premier tourist attraction.

Now here’s the other side of the Three Gorges coin: If ever there were a disaster waiting to happen, it is this very same dam. For starters, the dam is located close to a major earthquake fault line, which is even more a concern because the dam has experienced numerous cracks. At one point, China’s Premier Zhu Rongji warned that, because of rampant corruption and shoddy construction management, much of the dam’s infrastructure was made not of solid, reliable concrete but rather of “tofu.”9

For more details, check out The Coming China Wars and the WSJ.  If that dam ever fails, it will kill more people than any single engineering failure in history.  Even if it doesn’t fail, it is likely to do considerable damage in China.


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