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China turns to foreign help for Three Gorges Dam

NEWS

THREE GORGES Dam project managers confirmed this week that they are in talks with US and French firms to provide outside supervision to control the huge plant fleet required on China's biggest construction project.

Expertise from other 'well known' international firms, they said, may also be brought in to project manage the concreting on the massive £15bn project to dam the Yangtse river and flood surrounding valleys.

But Chinese engineers from the construction division of the project angrily rejected claims that there had been any problems with concreting quality to date.

Spie of France, and Guy F Atkinson of the US have been in discussion on the equipment side of the project. But no contracts have been signed yet, and on the construction side no final decision has been taken to use foreign expertise.

'We are talking to internationally reputable firms, including Spie and Atkinson, and would also be interested in hearing from other firms,' engineers from the project's special equipment control company told NCE.

The company is a subsidiary of the huge China Yangtse Three Gorges Project Corporation, for which it assesses, buys and maintains the major plant items used. CYTGPC is overall client for the scheme.

It is known that engineers wish to tighten up the management of the project before the second stage, construction of the giant left bank powerhouse and central spillway, gets into its stride. This stage began last autumn after the successful completion of a giant diversion channel in 1997, an 88m high earth and rockfill cofferdam to seal the Yangste upstream, and smaller downstream cofferdams.

Lessons and experience from the five year long first stage demand a 'scientific management system', the corporation said in February. In particular there is a new emphasis on quality control, not just at Three Gorges but generally across the country. A number of recent bridge collapses during construction emphasised this point, including two fatal falsework collapses on a bridge project in Chongqing this year.

High level political pressure has been added, following a visit to Three Gorges on 30 December by new Chinese prime minister Zhu Rongji. He is quoted as saying that a 'higher sense of responsibility' was needed on the dam, and that a 'rigorous project supervision system' was needed, possibly by hiring foreign engineers.

But senior engineer Li Jun Lin of the CYTGPC rejected allegations of poor workmanship. This is 'non-expert' misunderstanding, he said. 'No experts have criticised the work,' he added, pointing out that 'some cracking is a normal outcome of concrete work'.

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