Hydropower: Dam if you Do, Dam if you Don’t

The Three Gorges Dam

is being subjected to a level of public criticism not seen in China since construction of the project began in 1992,

David Bandurski of the China Media Project (CMP, Hong Kong) noted on June 1, and explained that

One important reason for this, of course, is that the State Council is debating the passage of a “Three Gorges Follow-Up Work Plan” (三峡后续工作规划) and a “Yangtze Middle and Lower Reaches Water Contamination Prevention Plan” (长江中下游流域水污染防治规划), exposing a number of serious issues with the Three Gorges Dam Project. Media have seized on this as an opportunity to probe deeper into the project and its impact (including the history of its approval).

Zipingpu Dam (紫坪铺水利枢纽), Sichuan Province

Zipingpu Dam (紫坪铺水利枢纽), Sichuan Province (Wikimedia Commons - click on this picture for source)

Chinese news coverage may be more critical than ever (except, possibly, the run-up phase to approval by the “National People’s Congress” which eventually passed the project by an unusually narrow margin of “only” two thirds, but the debate never really ended. Another dam, the Zipingpu Reservoir some 5.5 kilometers away from the epicenter of the Wenchuan Earthquake of 2008, was also discussed by Chinese geologists, with the BBC‘s Chinese service in 2009, and, in March this year, on the China Society for Hydropower Engineering (中国水力发电工程学会) website. Chen Houqun (陈厚群), an elder at the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, pointed out that while coal accounted for some seventy to eighty per cent of China’s energy mix, China’s leaders had pledged to raise the share of non-fossil sources of energy to 15 per cent before 2020.

China’s potential for hydropower was irreplacable (我认为我们国家的国情,大力发展水电起到了无可替代的作用), Chen suggested, while he acknowledged that given that the rivers ran from China’s west to its east, and given that western China was exactly the region where earthquakes were most likely to strike,  “seismic safety” was an unavoidable issue in the development of hydropower (水电的抗震安全是不可避免的问题).

Nuclear energy, too, is an energy sector where the bureaucracy behind it and the media are trying to alleviate concerns (which may be great or small in China, as the thread of this Sinologistical blogpost demonstrates). China News informed its readers, also in March this year, that in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, full consideration of earthquakes and other natural disasters’ influence had been given to the Fangchenggang nuclear plant’s choice of location.

As far as smaller solutions than the Three Gorges megaproject of the 1980s and 1990s are concerned, China might at least be interested in foreign technology, provided that financial support from respective government is provided. That’s what the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research website suggested on March 24.


» Zipingpu Dam, Wikipedia
» Copenhagen: Stop Bitching, December 18, 2009

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