Three Gorges Dam at Yichang, Central China's Hubei Province. (Photo: VCG)
Rumors and criticism surrounding China's Three Gorges Dam have been constant since its construction began in 1994.
The dam recently raised concerns worldwide after a Google map screenshot showed an apparent deformation in the dam's body along with a tweet saying that half of the Chinese population would face misery once the dam breaks.
Initially, experts did not take the absurd rumor seriously as it obviously went against the facts. However, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation then responded to the rumor on July 4 with an image taken by the high-resolution Earth observation satellite Gaofen-6, which shows that there is no abnormality in the Three Gorges Dam, according to China Central Television (CCTV).
Cao Yi, director of the Operations Department of the Three Gorges Group Basin Administration, told thepaper.cn, a Shanghai-based news portal, that the image showing the "deformed" Three Gorges Dam had not been directly captured by a satellite, but formed through a series of algorithms, which are different to algorithms used in China's map-making.
As the world's largest hydropower station, and the largest hydropower project in China's history, the Three Gorges Dam has a maximum power capacity of 2.25 billion kilowatt hours.
It took 17 years to construct and had an investment of 200 billion yuan ($30 billion).
The Three Gorges Dam is a concrete gravity dam, which means it is consolidated by its own weight.
Several highly intensified simulation blasts were set off at the dam to show that conventional weapons cannot damage it, and that it can even resist an attack from a low-yield nuclear weapon, according to CCTV.
China Three Gorges Corporation posted an article on July 8 on its official WeChat account in response to the concerns. In the post, experts explained the quality inspection safety monitoring system and the situation regarding the deformation.
But some media re-wrote the title of the article into "Expert: The Three Gorges Dam is under safe and reliable operation with its dam body under elastic deformation," which gave foreign media and the public the wrong idea that there is an abnormality at the Three Gorges Dam.
The article is filled with technical terms, and says that a displacement of a few millimeters is far from a deformation.
The project ranks first in the world in several fields, such as total installed capacity, generating capacity, concrete placement, flood control capacity, construction difficulty, flood carrying capacity and ship lift scale.
In the past 25 years, the project has been mired in rumors and slander, including the claim that the dam caused the 8.0 magnitude Wenchuan earthquake in Southwest China's Sichuan Province in 2008, which killed 69,227 people.
Lu Youmei, an academician of Chinese Academy Engineering and a senior construction official of the Three Gorges Project who participated in the construction and operation of the project, said that with a distance of over 700 kilometers, Wenchuan and the Three Gorges Dam are on different tectonic plates, and claimed that the dam caused the earthquake are groundless.
Other unfounded rumors included a claim that the dam caused floods downstream of the Yangtze River.
Lu said that the dam controls flooding from the upstream to the downstream area of the Yangtze River. If a flood occurs upstream, the dam would play a decisive role in flood control. However, if intensive rainfall occurs downstream, the dam would only be able to mitigate the disaster.
Another rumor states that the project caused the drought in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, and the ecology along the Yangtze River has been changed by the project.
"All dam projects have positive and side effects, and our project is no exception," Zhang Zhihui, an associate researcher with the Institute for the History of Natural Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times.
"During the feasibility study, we noticed this and in response, we have proposed countermeasures. Problems do exist and we will not try to ignore them, but will overcome all difficulties and solve all of them. Of course, there are so many rumors and slanders that the Three Gorges Dam had to face," she noted.
Just like all human activity on Earth, the Three Gorges Dam would inevitably change the original ecological environment. From Lu's point of view, the ecology maintains the status of interdependence between all living things in nature. It is a process of dynamic equilibrium, and there is no such thing as original ecology or constant ecological balance. Ecology depends on the environment, and the soundness of environment depends on the sustainable development of mankind.
Meanwhile, other nonsensical rumors have circulated. At the beginning of 2018, some Taiwan-based media claimed that it would take just one missile to blow up the Three Gorges Dam.
Regardless of the moral concerns, the hypothesis itself is unlikely to be technically possible.
Even if the military on the island of Taiwan could deliver a missile of such a long range, the manufacturing capability in the region is far too weak to produce one.
For any medium-range missile designed to hit the target from such a long distance, navigation technology for such a distance would still be needed, whereas Taiwan's guidance capability is quite limited. Even if one or two medium-range missiles are lucky enough to come near the Three Gorges Dam, the accuracy for an effective strike does not exist, according to Chinese military experts.
Buyidao, a Global Times-affiliated WeChat public account, posted an analysis on July 9 on the reasons behind the years of slanders that the Three Gorges Dam has been facing.
Since the 1950s, there has been a great deal of controversy over the project, and some of them remain today.
Those controversies, together with conjecture from various people, and problems rooted in the protection of migrants and natural and historical heritages, have overlapped and become a weak spot for attacks against the Three Gorges Dam. These plausible arguments have created more doubts among people which are not based on evidence, the post said.
The post said that all large dam projects worldwide have been met with dissenting opinions, and the core issue is the conflict between two concepts in different times. In the past, the idea was to utilize and change nature, while in modern times, intervening in nature is not encouraged in project construction, as the contemporary world prefers more environmentally friendly methods. In the Three Gorges Dam case, many believe the Yangtze River should be allowed to run freely without a dam to block it.
A large number of people around the world still suffer water shortages, and dams can help to mitigate the situation just as a bank can adjust reserve currencies, said the post.
On that score, constructing dams is necessary and inevitable in the course of human progress. The post said that it does not make any sense to go against just one dam, since there are more than 1,000 dams under construction in other parts of the world.
The post also discussed the necessity of the existence of the dam in China, saying that the Three Gorges Dam is not an improvised idea. Before its construction, China had the most serious, heated and open discussions on the feasibility of the project, and the final decision was made with the pros and cons considered by the National People's Congress, China's national legislature.
It is fair to say the sweeping discussion on the pros and cons of the Three Gorges Project was held under the highest level of knowledge at that time. The new knowledge and understanding of contemporary times should not be a reason to deny the past, as the decision was made after weighing the advantages and disadvantages, and the result today proves that its advantages outweigh the disadvantages, according to the post.
Lu said that among all the dams he has worked on, the last thing to keep him awake will be the Three Gorges Dam.
Buyidao's post also analyzed the reason why the Three Gorges Dam project has been mired in rumors and slander.
According to the analysis, some of the attacks come from idealistic environmentalists who have no specialized knowledge on hydrology and hydraulic engineering and oppose the dam for the sake of opposing it. In addition, the Three Gorges Project has become a political issue rather than a technical one.
Most of the rumors and slanders are groundless and do not have sound evidence, but the doubts and controversies have not ended, of which the latest was initiated by foreign social media.
In fact, no major problems have ever occurred in the Three Gorges Dam since its construction. However, doubts and questions around the dam will not vanish in the near future, said the post.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources, the Three Gorges Dam had reduced its outflow on Friday afternoon to help control the first flood in the Yangtze River, which was formed downstream early Saturday morning.