Today in History – November 8, 1997 – the main channel of the Yangtze River in China began to be blocked in preparation for the world’s largest hydroelectric power project. The Three Gorges Dam project in the People’s Republic of China is extremely controversial along several dimensions. The project was developed with the objective of controling flooding, providing hydroelectric power, and increasing trade and economic development within China â€“ but the costs and benefits are far from being clear as scores of people and villages will be displaced and silting considerations and geological weakening could result in catastrophic disasters. Environmentalists are concerned that the dam is endangering several species near extinction, most notable the white-flag dolphin, which is listed as one of the 12 most endangered species in the world. Although locals have reported spotting the dolphin, a team of 25 scientists from six countries failed to find any white flag dolphins during a 38-day search last year. Thus it could very well be extinct today. If so, it would be the first cretacean of historical record to be driven to extinction by human activily, as the dolphin has no other natural enemies. This project provides an interesting case in cost-benefit analysis and engineering ethics in a country without full public debate.
Also on this day in history, Wilhelm Rontgen discovered x-rays in 1895. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 based on this discovery.