Three Gorges Dam

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The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, located in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province, China. The Three Gorges Dam is the world's largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW) but is second to Itaipu Dam with regard to the generation of electricity annually.

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Three Gorges Dam
Three Gorges Dam

As well as producing electricity, the dam is intended to increase the Yangtze River's shipping capacity and reduce the potential for floods downstream by providing flood storage space. The Chinese government regards the project as a historic engineering, social and economic success, with the design of state-of-the-art large turbines, and a move toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions. However, the dam flooded archaeological and cultural sites and displaced some 1.3 million people, and is causing significant ecological changes, including an increased risk of landslides. The dam has been a controversial topic both domestically and abroad.

Except for a ship lift, the dam project was completed and fully functional as of July 4, 2012, when the last of the main turbines in the underground plant began production. Each main turbine has a capacity of 700 MW. The dam body was completed in 2006. Coupling the dam's 32 main turbines with two smaller generators (50 MW each) to power the plant itself, the total electric generating capacity of the dam is 22,500 MW.

Three Gorges Dam
Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam has become a symbol of China's efforts to join the modern world. Dr. Sun Yat Sen first suggested the dam in 1919, but it was not begun until 1994 and will not be completed until 2009. When completed, the Three Gorges Dam will be the world's largest at 7.575 feet long and 594 feet high. The reservoir behind the dam will reach 410 miles (about half the length of California) up the Yangtze to Chongqing. Workers numbering between 20,000 and 30,000 have been working in shifts on a 24-hour schedule since 1994. A rough estimate of the total cost of the projection (including inflation) is as high as $70 billion.

Three Gorges Dam
5-Step Shiplock of Three Gorges Project

The dam's main purpose is to improve flood control and navigation on the river. In addition, the dam will increase electric power production in China by 20% in central China where it is really needed. The dam will yield the same amount of electricity as 20 nuclear power plants! Finally, the dam will boost fisheries, tourism, and recreational activities in the area, and may be able to be used for irrigation for the drought-prone provinces north of the Yangtze. However, the dam has been controversial since its inception because of the 1.5 million people who will need to be resettled from over 1,000 towns and villages and the loss of precious farmland, endangered animal species, and historical sites. Some opponents also fear that the reservoir will quickly become polluted from the waste that will continue to be dumped directly into the river, with no outlet. The Yangtze also carries a large amount of sediment, so the area will have to be constantly dredged.

The river was blocked in June 2003 at the end of phase 2 of the construction project, and the waters started to rise. In 2004, the water was 443 feet above sea level, but will eventually reach 575 feet above sea level in 2009. There are markers along the cliff faces of the Yangtze showing the current and ultimate depths of the river. Some of the cliffs over the river will be dynamited to prevent causing future problems to navigation.

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