Russia plans to build the world’s longest tunnel, a transport and pipeline link under the Bering Strait to Alaska, as part of a $65 billion project to supply the U.S. with oil, natural gas and electricity from Siberia.
The project, which Russia is coordinating with the U.S. and Canada, would take 10 to 15 years to complete, Viktor Razbegin, deputy head of industrial research at the Russian Economy Ministry, told reporters in Moscow today. State organizations and private companies in partnership would build and control the route, known as TKM-World Link, he said.
A 6,000-kilometer (3,700-mile) transport corridor from Siberia into the U.S. will feed into the tunnel, which at 64 miles will be more than twice as long as the underwater section of the Channel Tunnel between the U.K. and France, according to the plan. The tunnel would run in three sections to link the two islands in the Bering Strait between Russia and the U.S.
“This will be a business project, not a political one,” Maxim Bystrov, deputy head of Russia’s agency for special economic zones, said at the media briefing. Russian officials will formally present the plan to the U.S. and Canadian governments next week, Razbegin said.
The Bering Strait tunnel will cost $10 billion to $12 billion and the rest of the investment will be spent on the entire transport corridor, the plan projects. The tunnel would contain a high-speed railway, highway and pipelines, as well as power and fiber-optic cables, according to TKM-World Link. Investors in the so-called public-private partnership include OAO Russian Railways, national utility OAO Unified Energy System and pipeline operator OAO Transneft.
Russia and U.S. may each eventually take 25 percent stakes, with private investors and international finance agencies as other shareholders, Razbegin said. “The governments will act as guarantors for private money,” he said. The link will save North America and Far East Russia $20 billion a year on electricity costs, said Vasily Zubakin, deputy chief executive officer of OAO Hydro OGK, Unified Energy’s hydropower unit and a potential investor.
“It’s cheaper to transport electricity east, and with our unique tidal resources, the potential is real,” Zubakin said. Hydro OGK plans by 2020 to build the Tugurskaya and Pendzhinskaya tidal plants, each with capacity of as much as 10 gigawatts, in the Okhotsk Sea, close to Sakhalin Island.
Russian Railways is working on the rail route from Pravaya Lena, south of Yakutsk in the Sakha republic, to Uelen on the Bering Strait, a 3,500 kilometer stretch. The link could carry commodities from east Siberia and Sakha to North American export markets, said Artur Alexeyev, Sakha’s vice president.
The two regions hold most of Russia’s metal and mineral reserves “and yet only 1.5 percent of it is developed due to lack of infrastructure and tough conditions,” Alexeyev said. Rail links in Russia and the U.S., where an almost 2,000 kilometer stretch from Angora to Fort Nelson would continue the route, would cost up to $15 billion, Razbegin said. With cargo traffic of as much as 100 million tons annually expected on the World Link, the investments in the rail section could be repaid in 20 years, he said. “The transit link is that string on which all our industrial cluster projects could hang,” Zubakin said.
Japan, China and Korea have expressed interest in the project, with Japanese companies offering to burrow the tunnel under the Bering Strait for $60 million a kilometer, half the price set down in the project, Razbegin said.