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Plan for Tunnel to Sakhalin Unveiled

Published: November 28, 2000 (Issue # 624)


MOSCOW - The Russian government is talking of reviving a grandiose Stalin-era project to build a 10-kilometer tunnel under the Pacific Ocean to connect the mainland to the island of Sakhalin and then adding a 40-kilometer bridge over the ocean to connect Sakhalin to Japan.

Officials from President Vladimir Putin on down have been talking up the project and suggest it could be under way by the end of next year.

They are doing so despite an unusually sour Japanese response to the idea, including Japan's firm insistence that it will not put a dime into what Moscow says would be a $50 billion affair.

Railways Ministry officials say the ultimate plan is to lay rails from Japan to England. Valery Yudin, a spokesman for the ministry, said "several business plans" regarding the venture would be presented next month to the ministry's top officials.

Railway Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko went a step further, telling Interfax this week that by the end of next year, his ministry "really will start construction of the tunnel under the Tatarsky Straits, which will connect the mainland with Sakhalin."

A tunnel under the straits, which are about 10 kilometers across at their most narrow point, was begun in the 1940s, and apparently workers made it almost to the half-way point. But the project was abandoned after Stalin's death and it was not clear this week if the digging done half a century ago could still be used.

After the tunnel is built, the plan is to hang what would be the world's largest bridge, stretching 40 kilometers across the Pacific, from Sakhalin to the Japanese island of Hokkaido. At the moment, the world's largest bridge is the Seti-Ohashi, a 14.5-kilometer span between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Shikoku.

Railways Ministry officials say the massive infrastructure investments would pay for themselves in 15 or 20 years. Thanks to the certain increase in cargo transit between Europe and Japan alone, Railways Ministry officials told Itar-Tass, the Russian budget could earn an additional 20 billion rubles (about $750 million) annually.

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