From Volume 37, Issue 34 of EIR Online, Published Sept 3, 2010
Russia and the CIS News Digest

Bering Strait Great Project on the Agenda This Year

Aug. 24 (EIRNS)—The Bering Strait tunnel project will be on the agenda of the November G20 summit in South Korea, Russian Federation Council member Aslambek Aslakhanov told Novosti in a live interview aired yesterday on the agency's English service. The G20 will be hosted by South Korea this year, he noted, and "as far as we know, our South Korean colleagues will put this project on the agenda." Aslakhanov, who was an advisor to Vladimir Putin as President, and geography expert Alexander Bgatov emphasized the critical role of the project for the industrial development of the entire region, by linking four continents.

Lyndon LaRouche, the world's leading proponent of this great infrastructure project, on Aug. 9, spoke of its worldwide significance. To deal with such crises as the recent drought in Russia, LaRouche said, there must be close collaboration between the United States and Russia, and other nations. "NAWAPA, a terraforming project which will open the way toward realization of the Bering Strait project linking the Americas and Eurasia, is a key ingredient in that."

Aslakhanov, who represents the Siberian region of Omsk, said that in the Russian government, "the overall attitude is positive" to the Bering Strait tunnel project. "One main advantage," he said, "will be creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs," as well as the "opportunity to build new houses, whole new communities, and develop industry and the whole region." It will also provide access to new mineral projects.

In 1997, the Russian government had held a conference, where it was agreed to actively pursue the project. But "political change" got in the way, Aslakhanov said. It is now back on the agenda. "We need to show the political will to translate the project into reality," he said.

There is opposition: Some economists doubt the economic viability of the project, he said, "but they are too young to see the big picture; they only consider the project as such, without thinking about the industrial and regional development the project could bring." Most of the leading Russian and foreign economists and experts believe the project is "very promising." It would take 10-12 years to complete, and pay for itself in another 10-12 years. Claims that it will be a net loss are "incomprehensible," Aslakhanov said, since the tunnel "would connect four continents and would spur the development of several regions in this country." Many countries are interested in building the project, and the prospect of earning solid dividends from it.

Bgatov pointed out that construction of the tunnel was prevented over 100 years ago, first by the Russo-Japanese War, and then by the 1917 revolution, and other events. In the 1990s, he said, specialists from the U.S.A., Russia, and the U.K. set up a non-profit corporation to study the project, and this group concluded that it had been known since 1902, that the project was feasible. They have already done many studies of the technological background.

The project concept has gone beyond a railroad tunnel to the "construction of a major transport route," with high-speed electric trains, an eight-lane highway, power lines, oil and gas pipelines, fiber optics, and other infrastructure. The major impact, Bgatov said, will not be the railroad itself, but "the project's influence on the development of the regions through which it will pass. We cannot even calculate what that will be," he said, but it will be "enormous." Economists claimed that the Trans-Siberian Railroad would not pay for itself, but it did so in only six years! Beyond that, it made Russia a continental nation: "Without the Trans-Siberian, our borders would be very different today," Bgatov said.

Putin Underlines Importance Of Siberia

Aug. 24 (EIRNS)—While President Obama wallows in the rain puddles at Martha's Vineyard, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin has been travelling in Siberia and the Russian Far East. He visited researchers at the Tiksis Arctic Observatory, which concentrates on the study of the permafrost, and the nature preserve at Ust-Lenski, where he spoke with members of a Russian-German scientific expedition, Lena-2010, who are also investigating changes in the permafrost due to the fluctuations in the climate at the rich Lena delta on the Laptev Sea. "We are planning to develop in the direction of Eastern Siberia," Putin said, "developing here the economy and production, and your findings will help us determine the optimal method for that development." Putin praised the international scientific cooperation in investigating the resources of the Far East, and promised the researchers better working and living facilities (they are still living in tents). He also participated in drilling in the permafrost.

Putin spoke about the exploitation of new oil and gas reserves in eastern Siberia, but also underlined the importance of the mineral deposits of the region. He indicated that without the development of infrastructure, these resources could never be utilized. He stressed the role of the construction in Vladivostok of a major center as the site of the 2012 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting, after which the APEC facilities will be transformed into a new university for the Far Eastern region.

Putin also underlined the importance of the final construction of a highway between Chita and Khabarovsk, calling it an historic development. Although there has long been a railroad going through Russia, there has been no highway. He also underlined the significance of the establishment of a new space launch facility in the Far East, Cosmodrome Vostochny. Later he travelled to Kamchatka, travelling on a fishing trawler in the area, underlining the need for providing better facilities for the fishing fleet in the region.

Russia Moves Ahead with Fast Breeder Reactors

Aug. 27 (EIRNS)—Some of the 26 reactors that Rosatom, Russia's state nuclear corporation, plans to build before 2030, will use the Fast Reactor technology, corporation spokesman Sergei Novikov said. According to the corporation's outlook, it will completely phase out the current, third-generation equipment by the start of next century.

On one hand, Rosatom's plan to commercialize the fast breeder reactor stems from the fact, Novikov said, that the world is set to run out of affordable uranium in about 12 years, given the plans by Russia, China, India, and other countries to build more reactors. "If all the plans ... are implemented—and they are getting to it so far—the market will have a shortage both of uranium and the facilities for its enrichment," he said. Uranium has already shot up in price from at least $7/pound in 2005, to $60/pound as of June 30, Novikov said. Beyond the depletion of uranium, the fast breeder reactor achieves what industry insiders call a closed fuel cycle, the ability to use by-products from one nuclear reaction as fuel for another, allowing for a spectacular expansion of fuel reserves. It usually uses mixed oxide fuel made up of about 20% plutonium and 80% non-enriched uranium that transmutes into more plutonium as it burns.

In addition to a better fuel situation, the fast breeder reactor produces waste that is much safer to store, because half of its radioactivity dissipates over 30 to 40 years. In contrast, waste from current nuclear reactors can take more than 25,000 years to decay.

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