Cracks on Li Peng’s Memorial

It is one of the “man-must-rule-over-nature” sites: the Three-Gorges Dam (三峡大坝) on the Yangzi River in Hubei Province. It was a controversial project ever since it was revived after Mao Zedong‘s death, in the 1980s and 1990s, but reportedly also one of then prime minister Li Peng‘s (李鹏) favorite projects. No wonder – Li’s alma mater is the Moscow Power Engineering Institute, and the Stalinists liked gigantic construction.

Once more, the monumental hydropower project is now causing headaches (if it ever ceased to, that is). Southern Metropolis Daily reports that the reservoir’s falling water level is causing geological problems, i. e. heightened risks of landslides. It is currently at 160 meters, and planned to drop to 145 meters in the dam’s third year of reservoir testing. The reservoir slopes may need repairs, with no end in sight. Cracks next to a flyover and a school are emerging, and there have reportedly been several landslides and palpable earthquakes. Areas with a high likelihood and at risk of earthquakes overlap each other in the area anyway. The state will have to invest tens of billions of Yuan RMB into geological disaster management (地质灾害治理) shortly, according to the article. The area in question is Fengjie County (奉节县), in the northeast of Chongqing municipality.

Local news reports described earthquakes as a consequence of impounding as “normal”, but Southern Metropolis Daily quotes residents who feel uneasy nonetheless, and who would like to relocate. Given that the area is prone both to earthquakes and landslides anyway, the situation is “complicated”, writes the paper.

China’s rubberstamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, approved of the Three-Gorges project with an unusually small margin of two-thirds [update: in 1992] – a small margin by NPC standards, that is. Several senior officials who reportedly shared the concerns of the delegates who voted against the Dam or abstained.

The Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008 has probably added to public sensitivity. Early in 2009, there was a debate as to which degree the Zipingpu Reservoir, some 5.5 kilometers from the epicenter, had caused or aggravated the disaster.

The Three-Gorges Dam’s side-effects are therefore a fairly sensitive issue – and a number of comments next to the Southern Metropolis article currently express their respect and gratitude for the paper’s report.


Too many Lies, March 7, 2010
Wenchuan Earthquake and Zipingpu Reservoir, February 5, 2009
LiuHan Hope Elementary School students’ Survival a Miracle? – May 19, 2008

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