World Travel GuidesThree Gorges Dam, Hubei Province, China

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Three Gorges Dam, Sandouping, Hubei Province, China

The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydroelectric river dam in the world, as well as the biggest construction project on earth. It is built across the Yangtze River in Sandouping, Yichang, Hubei Province, China. This mammoth dam is 2335m (7660ft) long and 185m (616ft) high.

The Three Gorges Dam has a base that is 115 meters wide and a top that is 40 meters wide. The project consumed 28 million cubic metres of concrete and 463 thousand tons of steel. It creates a 600-kilometer-long man-made reservoir that holds 39 cubic kilometres of water. This allows the dam to generate 22,500 MW of electrictiy, thus cementing its claim as the largest hydroelectric power station in the world.

Three Gorges Dam, China
Tomasz Dunn

The idea to dam the Yangtze River goes as far back as 1919, when Dr Sun Yat Sen presented his paper on The International Development of China. At that time however, the technology to build such a big dam was not yet available. A "trial run" was carried out between 1970 and 1988 when the Gezhouba Dam was constructed, also across the Yangtze River.

The Three Gorges Dam project was only started in 1993, after it received the approval of the National People's Congress. Actual construction began in 1994, and the structure was completed on 20 May, 2006, nine months ahead of schedule. Although the reservoir began to fill since 1 June 2003, the dam was only fully operational from 2009. The project was completed at a cost of 180 billion yuan, less than 20 billion yuan of the original projected cost. The Chinese government would need ten years to recover that cost.

Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River
Le Grand Portage

The construction of the Three Gorges Dam came at a tremendous cost. Some 1.13 million people living in the area were affected by the rising water, forcing mass relocation and the creation of new townships. The dam also caused the inundation of many valuable archaeological and cultural sites. Now that the water level has risen, the scenic sights of the Three Gorges have been made less dramatic.

The Three Gorges Dam helps China reduce its dependency on coal consumption by 31 million tons per year. It also helps the country cut down on the emission of greenhouse gas by 100 million tons. At the same time, it helps reduce the amount of dust, sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, carbon monoxide and mercury discharged into the atmosphere.

The Three Gorges Dam alone is expected to meet 10% of China's electricity consumption needs. However, as China's demand for electricity continues to outpace original projections, the dam is now expected to support only 3% of its total electricity needs.

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