More Damn Quality Problems in China

Posted On: Tuesday - June 30th 2020 8:32PM MST
In Topics: 
  Cheap China-made Crap  China  Geography

Oops, another of those homonym errors - should have been "Dam" quality problems.

The Three Gorges Dam, on the Yangtze River that runs west to east through China*, is one of the biggest projects that the Communist** Central Government implemented. I'd not heard before my Chinese source talked to me about it today that this dam, started in 1994, and built over 15 years(with 3 more to finish the project with 32 generators), has structural problems. I guess I had no reason to care, really, but the problems, or at least public knowledge of them, go back more than a decade.

The idea of building this dam was thought about as far back as a century ago by the revered Chinaman Sun Yat-Sen. The amazing thing is that he envisioned the dam being able to create 30 million Hp, or 22,000 MW. That's very close to the power it produces, at 22,500 MW. Sure, once you know how high the dam could be built based on physical constraints, hence the head of water (it's about 360 ft!), you get an idea of the power that can be extracted, but the power turbines and generators are not something Mr. Sun could have known the efficiency of. It's been one of the infrastructure pieces that the Chinese have been most proud of, but they've got a whole lot more than that, as of late. I do notice that this huge project never got going during the whole near-30-year Mao era***.

While we were talking about it, BTW, I mentioned that most of the dams built during the American big public works era during the Great Depression (the first one), especially the earthen ones in the South, have value for flood control, power generation, AND recreation. The latter is, in fact, likely the biggest economic boon from the projects in this country, as some of those lakes have HUNDREDS of miles of shoreline, when you get to the small scale of that involved in dividing up property. It helps a lot when the terrain is hilly. This is not something that matters as much in China, where power-boating, sailing, and swimming are not big things (yet). It doesn't help that most Chinese people can't swim. So, I guess it's just the flood control and the hydro-power that are the point, in China.

Anyway, per an Australian TV news site, with the headline China denies millions of lives at risk as catastrophic flooding threatens Three Gorges Dam, the huge amount of rain the area near (upstream I suppose) has received lately is threatening this huge dam. That can happen when you have a 2,000-year storm in a place with a dam designed for only a 1,000-year storm (not the case here, but more on this in a bit).**** However, per my source, who is no insider other than by virtue of being Chinese and reading some of the real news, and this article, the problem is again China-made crap. This time, it's not the American consumer getting inconvenienced, but millions of Chinese citizens (OK, subjects) getting scared shitless and possibly flooded out of house and home.

The article's first line has some real hype, as it is the Lyin' Press after all, even if down-under (not everything runs backwards down there):
As many as 400 million lives may be at risk as torrential rain in China threatens the world’s largest dam.
"Lives at risk" to most of us would mean "in danger of dying", but I don't think it's the case that 400,000,000 could die. Their housing, land, etc. could be in jeopardy, and that must be if the dam failed catastrophically with effects felt all the way downstream to the East China Sea. You could say these people's lives are at risk in this way, but, no, 30% of the population would not die, not in this age of WeChat and other instant communication methods. (Could twitter finally turn out to be worth a dam?)

If you go back to the mid-1970s though, you can find the case of the failure of the Banqiao Dam and 65 others on the Huai River killing 230,000 (per this article). This one DID involve a 2,000-year rainfall, from a typhoon, against a 1,000-year-flood Soviet design. Think back to the earthquakes we used to read about that killed a quarter of a million Chinamen at a time that we'd read about through the 1990s or so. It'd be unfathomable in America, having even a proportional amount killed in a disaster, say, 50,000 people. In the case of the earthquakes, we don't all live together in concrete structures, and in the case of these dams, well, it's not just bad luck over there, but a lack of respect for quality throughout a big effort like this. There are just too many dam people in one place over there, every place, just about, until you go way west.

Think about that Oroville, California dam on-going story of about a year or year-and-a-half ago - it was the same story, but I doubt any more than a few dozens of thousands of people would have been adversely affected. We've got it nice having so much room!

Per the article, it's the fact that the same groups of Central Government people were doing the designing, construction, and quality inspection of the Three Gorges Dam project that is the problem. My source says that the employees of the government agencies involved cover up for each other as long as it takes to complete their tasks and get retired, leaving for the next guys, with no accountability. I doubt the blame can all be placed on the civil and hydro engineers. That's usually not the way it works, but with government politics involved, some of the higher-higher ups of those types are more likely to cave to pressure (get it?) than they would here.

Hey, our dams were built as government projects too, the reader may well point out. That's a good point. It can't all be a problem of government support itself. However, America is not China, and Americans don't have the same attitude, and didn't even during the Great Depression when most of these projects that are still nicely in place today were built - it's over 80 years for lots of them!

This post is not about gloating, especially were something really bad going to happen there on the Yangtze River. However, I do get sick of all the lecturing by Americans to other Americans about how everything is great in China, while America can't do squat. (Yes, Peak Stupidity has written that American is not a "can-do" country anymore, but we know that was not always the case and doesn't have to continue being the case.) The people I get sick of in this regard are the types like Fred Reed and Ron Unz, who are old enough to remember when America was THE can-do country. Will either of these two pundits even mention anything about the worries about the Three Gorges Dam?

* The Yangtze River is the 3rd longest in the world, not that that really effects the effectiveness of a dam. It is sort of a divide of China between up the dry country to the north of it from the wet country to the south, or, as some may put it, the noodle zone to the north from the rice zone to the south.

** CINO, or Communist In Name Only, for the last 2 or 3 decades, but totalitarian still, just the same.

*** Per the Wiki page linked-to, "After the 1949 Communist takeover, Mao Zedong supported the project, but began the Gezhouba Dam project nearby first, and economic problems including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution slowed progress." That's rich there - slowed down by the Great Leap Forward! How TF does that happen?!

**** Here's a tidbit from the Wiki page that is pretty important: In 1997, the Three Gorges area had 10% forestation, down from 20% in the 1950s.. Run-off city. There's just too many people on the land over there.

[UPDATE 07/08:]
Geeze! I criticize others on innumeracy, but then I had 22.5 MW (twice) in the post as the power output. That's nothing, very obviously, when you think Does It Make Sense. Fixed now - reading 22,500 MW, which is, of course, 22.5 Gigawatts.

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