The Three Gorges Dam (长江三峡大坝, chángjiāng sānxiá dàbà), the world’s most ambitious hydroelectric project, is 35km west of Yichang at Sandouping. The statistics are impressive: completed in 2006, the dam wall has raised water levels upstream by up to 175m and holds back a 660km-long lake; and when it becomes fully operational around 2012, the turbines will generate 22.5 GW (gigawatts) of power – about ten percent of the entire country’s needs. It’s hoped that the dam will help control the disastrous summer flooding which has long afflicted the lower Yangzi – something that received its first serious test in 2010, when torrential “once-in-a-century” monsoonal rains upstream seemed to be successfully contained. Critics of the dam label it a vanity project that has submerged countless archeological and historical sites in the Three Gorges, required the relocation of millions of people, caused landslides along the lake and will become redundant through siltation within seventy years. But there’s no doubt that, with its electricity consumption increasing every year, China desperately needs the power that the dam provides.
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