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Around the World in 80 Engineering Wonders: Three Gorges Dam, China

Three Gorges Dam, China

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Spanning across the Yangtze River in China, the Three Gorges Dam is the largest power station in the world. It took 40,000 workers to construct the mega-dam over a 12-year period, costing around $28 billion. The project had several issues to overcome. Citizens had been forced to relocate and historical locations were destroyed to make this massive project a reality. The dam was opened in 2003 but only became fully operational in 2012.

The plan to build the Three Gorges Dam dates back to the early 20th century. Chinese physician Sun Yat-sen came up with the idea of building the dam in 1919. He first described his vision in The International Development of China. It wasn’t until 1932 that the nationalist government began preliminary works on the project. 

Three Gorges Dam

When Japanese forces invaded China, they put together their own designs for the dam. Due to horrific floods and civil unrest, the project was put on hold for years. After much deliberation, the Three Gorges Dam was finally approved in 1992, with 1,767 people voting for it in the National People’s Congress. Construction began in 1994 for what would become a multi-purpose dam, generating 11 times as much power as the Hoover Dam.

The whole dam was built in just ten years. Made from concrete and steel, the Three Gorges Dam is 7,661 feet long and reaches 607 feet high above sea level. With its 32 generators, the dam produces enough energy to light up New York City, Washington and Boston. It is a truly impressive creation and a fantastic accomplishment for human engineering.

Three Gorges Dam

While the completion of the dam helped reduce greenhouse gases in China, it has caused major landslides due to cases of erosion in and around the reservoir. However, the dam has alleviated flooding, which is a fundamental problem in areas surrounding the Yangtze River. It has a long history of devastating floods, destroying homes, villages and taking thousands of lives.

The benefits of the dam are tenfold, but the project has proved controversial. Almost unbelievably, 13 cities, 140 towns, and thousands of small communities were flooded to create the reservoir. 1.3 million people were relocated as a result. Also, around 1,300 archaeological sites were destroyed to make way for the dam. It even had an impact on the Earth’s rotation and Chinese officials have faced much scrutiny from scientists. Due to the sheer scale of the dam, it would increase the Earth’s moment of inertia, slowing its rotation. The effect is increasing the length of the day very slightly by 0.06 seconds.

The Three Gorges Dam is one of the most spectacular sights in China, if not the world. It was given the National Quality Investment Award in 2011. It has become a popular tourist attraction, with visitors able to get a cruise that will take them right to its front entrance. There’s no denying it’s an engineering marvel and among the most iconic projects in recent history.

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