Mighty Yangtze yields to dam

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 November, 1997, 12:00am

CHINA yesterday completed the blocking of the Yangtze River, completing of the first phase of the world's biggest hydroelectric project in an atmosphere of national triumph.

On schedule, just before 3.30 pm, huge rocks were dumped into the last metres between the ends of two dykes.

Premier Li Peng, standing with other VIPs on a viewing platform, declared the operation a success as workers and onlookers cheered.

It was as much a celebration of nationalism and of China's political leadership as of the completion of part of a giant, complex engineering project.

Huge placards praising Deng Theory overlooked the site.

It was China's growing strength that made possible the building of the dam, which was the fulfilment of the dreams of generations of Chinese scientists, President Jiang Zemin said in a speech after the blocking.

He touched on the key challenges of the second phase of the project - planting trees to prevent slippage of soil into the river and resettling more than one million people.

Mr Li declared the start of the final blocking work just before 9 am. Trucks weighing up to 77 tonnes moved in convoy along both dykes and dumped rocks into a space 40 metres wide.

It took 6.5 hours to fill, using 430 loaders, dump-trucks and bulldozers and thousands of tonnes of rocks and gravel.

National television started 14 hours of coverage of the event at 8 am, the live broadcasts mixed with interviews with engineers involved, answers to questions from viewers and explanations of the reasons for the project.

The programmes stressed the technical and economic advances made by China so that it could undertake the Three Gorges project.

The Yangtze is 790 metres wide and 60 metres deep at the point where it was blocked.

Engineers built a diversion channel which opened on October 6 and will carry shipping for the next six years while the main dam is built and 14 electricity turbines installed inside the protected area sealed yesterday.

So far, 179 factories have been moved, 82,300 people resettled and 6,937 hectares of new land developed, with the Government having allocated 8.575 billion yuan (HK$8 billion) for resettlement. About 1.2 million people are to be moved, 400,000 of them in the second phase, due for completion in 2003.

The reservoir for the dam will inundate 632 square kilometres, including 24,000 hectares of farmland.

The capacity of the reservoir will be 39.3 million cubic metres and will be able to handle a flood peak of 27,000-33,000 cubic metres of water per second. It aims to protect 15 million people and 1.5 million hectares of farmland downstream.

The hydroelectric power station will be the world's largest, with a capacity of 18.2 million kilowatts.