Three Gorges Euphoria

Dazzled by the promise of increased demand for electricity in China, investors are rushing to scoop up their share of the upcoming IPO of the company financing the Three Gorges dam. The initial subscription is already 84 times oversubscribed (somewhat reminiscent of the hysteria for shares of Webvan and Dr. Koop back in the late 90s).

There’s also another story receiving way less coverage, namely the recommended closing of another Chinese dam plagued by a problem that many say will inevitably afflict Three Gorges:

Celebrated water engineer Zhang Guangdou has for the first time publicly called for the disastrous Sanmenxia dam on the Yellow River, which he helped design in the 1950s, to be shut down.

The project has been plagued since its completion in 1960 by the rapid accumulation of sediment in its reservoir, a worry that also surrounds the Three Gorges dam. (The seriousness of that concern was apparent in a report last week in The Times of London: “Engineers have given warning that a silt build-up could cripple the [Three Gorges] turbines, allegedly leading Siemens, one of the main suppliers, to turn down the offer from Beijing of a contract for maintenance work that would make it responsible for running the turbines.”)

I know, I know, enough of the bad news! Sorry, but I am in many ways a product of the late 90s, and I remember what happened when people made a choice, en masse, to abandon their critical faculties in favor of a pipe dream. I was one of them, and it taught me to look beyond the glitter. There’s a lot that is stunning about China’s growth. But don’t ignore the silt or you may get stuck in it.

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