From: Reuters
Published November 26, 2007 10:26 PM

China says huge Three Gorges Dam geologically sound

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese officials in charge of the massive Three Gorges Dam denied on Tuesday it is responsible geological "abnormalities," a week after a landslide in the area killed more than 30 people.

A statement from the Three Gorges project construction committee office said a "geological hazard repair programme" in the dam area was proceeding smoothly.

"There have been no abnormalities seen in the geological environment," the statement said.

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"Since the water level rose to 156 meters (515 feet), there have not been any major geological disasters in the Three Gorges Dam area that have led to major loss of life or injuries."

The Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric project, is an engineering feat that seeks to tame the Yangtze River.

But the project will displace up to 1.4 million people, many of them poor farmers from Hubei in central China and neighboring Chongqing.

Last week, a bus was crushed under a landslide at Badong County in Hubei, near a tributary to the dam, killing 31 people. A worker on a nearby railway construction site was also killed and two were missing.

Landslides across the dam area in the summer killed at least 13 people, according to local news reports and the dam environmental agency.

Some villagers have been told to move to avoid possible landslides.

Since the 2,309-metre-long dam was finished in 2003, the water level has risen in stages.

It reached 156 meters last year and if all goes to plan, it will reach its maximum of 175 meters next year.

Backers say the dam will end devastating floods downstream and generate clean electricity. Critics call it a reckless folly that has brought wrenching dislocation for many people.

Tuesday's statement was the latest in a government offensive to defend the project against claims that pollution and geological threats are piling up as the waters rise and strain brittle slopes around the 660-km (410-mile) reservoir.

Officials appeared to confirm some fears in September when they warned of a possible "environmental catastrophe" from pollution, erosion and landslides -- an abrupt departure from years of bright official praise for the dam.

A dam engineer described landslides slamming into waters, raising waves dozens of meters high that battered nearby shores.

Officials have denied previous reports in local media that 4 million more residents might be moved to try to improve the environment around the dam.

But a plan released by Chongqing, the sprawling municipality that oversees much of the reservoir, encourages 2.3 million people to move from villages around the dam and nearby counties.

(Editing by Nick Macfie and David Fogarty)

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