The ship locks on the massive Three Gorges Dam went through their first trial runs Monday to great fanfare, for the project touted as the world's biggest hyrdoelectric project.
Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan attended the nationally-televised ceremony, which saw boats above the dam descend the giant five-tiered ship lock and ships below ascend into the newly filled resevoir above.
The locks on the dam, which began storing water in its 435-kilometer (260-mile) resevoir on June 1, are also being promoted as the world's largest.
The locks can lift ships from 62 meters (204 feet) above sea level at the base of the dam to 135 meters in the resevoir in about two and a half hours. When the dam is fully completed in 2009, the water level in the resevoir will reach 175 meters.
The ship locks can accomodate boats as large as 3,000 tonnes, which will now be able to ply the Yangtze river from the dam at Yichang city through the scenic Three Gorges up to Chongqing municipality some 660 kilometers (396 miles) away.
Traffic along the river has been cut off at the dam for 66 days and is expected to open to regular traffic by June 20, as ships both above and below the dam line up to pass through the locks, Xinhua news agency said.
Construction on the controversial 25 billion-dollar dam began in 1993 despite loud protests at its huge expense, its possible environmental damages and the need to relocate some 1.2 million farmers to make way for the huge reservoir.
Expected to generate some 85 million kilowatt hours per year when its 26 power generators go online in 2009, the dam has also been touted as able to control flooding in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river.