The project, lauded as the “biggest water conservation project in the world” by the Chinese government, has been controversial from the start, with international protests over the displacement of 1.3m people and the flooding of the cultural and historic heritage of thirteen cities and hundreds of settlements.

Despite the dam being promoted as a clean energy source there are also serious environmental concerns, from the disruption of eco-systems to the potential sinking of coastal areas as the amount of silt deposited by the river decreases.

The dam’s 26 turbines will generate 18 GW of electricity, reducing China’s reliance on coal power which currently provides for over 80% of the country’s energy needs. The project was initially expected to provide 10% of China’s electricity needs, but this reduced to 3% as China’s energy needs shot up.

The concrete dam structure is 185m high and stretches across 2.3 km between the banks of the Yangtze, creating a 600km-long reservoir.

The idea of building a hydroelectric dam across the Yangtze river emerged in 1919 when communist revolutionist Sun Yatsen outlined the benefits of such a project in an article published in Chinese and English.

It took 74 years before his idea was put into practice and construction began in 1993, with the last 28m cubic metres of cement poured onto the structure during a televised ceremony on Saturday.

Goska Romanowicz

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