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Conference Plans Salvation Of World With Huge Engineering Projects

July 8, 1986

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Skeptics could have a field day with those who dream of damming the Bering Strait, tunneling through the Himalayas or building a $20 trillion solar collector.

But skeptics weren’t invited to this week’s Global Infrastructure Projects Conference, a gathering of about 60 scientists, businessmen and visionaries who believe the road to global salvation is paved with ″mega-projects.″

One participant is Harold Heinze, an oil company president who proposes building a road from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay to Norway - by way of the North Pole. He calls it ″World Route 1″ and says it could shorten trade routes between North America and northern Europe.

It may sound far out, but Heinze points to other huge projects his company, Arco Alaska Inc., has helped build: the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the oil field at remote Prudhoe Bay.

″Twenty years ago, if I had stood with you at the shore of Prudhoe Bay and said that a large industrial complex will exist right here, you would have laughed at me,″ Heinze said.

″Five years later, you would have started to believe me. Maybe I’m saying the same thing now. Maybe five years from now, I’ll look very visionary. Or maybe I’ll look really dumb.″

Those meeting at Alaska Pacific University are willing to take the chance.

What’s at stake, some participants said Monday, is nothing less than the survival of man.

Many projects are aimed at increasing agricultural output or generating cheap energy in the world’s impoverished nations.

″It is imperative today to solve the problems of the Third World, in which annually 20 to 30 million people are reported to be dying of hunger and famine,″ said Masaki Nakajima, head of the Global Infrastructure Fund and the conference’s keynote speaker.

Mega-projects require mega-funds, he said, and that requires cooperation of nations now more inclined toward conflict.

″What we need now is ... a concrete and widely acceptable alternative to the escalating arms race and arms sales that keep alive the threat of nuclear war,″ said Nakajima, director of the Mitsubishi Research Institute of Tokyo.

Some alternatives, as proposed by conference participants:

-Build a 53-mile-long dam across the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia to let engineers control the Arctic Ocean’s currents and make the North Pacific’s climate more temperate.

-Pump up groundwater, divert rivers and introduce new plant species to make green the Sahara Desert and arid lands of the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas.

-Build a manned base on the moon. ″The feasibility is pretty much assured,″ said Michael B. Duke. He would like to convince his employer, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, that the project is also desirable.

-Erect a huge solar energy collector in a remote part of the world. It would cost at least $20 trillion to build but could produce the energy equivalent of 200 billion barrels of oil each year, its sponsors say.

-Dam the Sanpo River between China and the Indian province of Assam to make it flow into India through a tunnel under the Himalayas. A hydroelectric project there, it is said, could generate 330 billion killowatt-hours a year.

Many projects are ideas whose times have not quite come. Timetables for completion are extremely loose. Few projects have price tags, and for those that do, it is not clear who will pay the bill.

These are small concerns for visionaries.

″They don’t deal the way we do with the world,″ said Carla Beam, a public relations specialist called in to help publicize the conference. ″They don’t pay that much attention to specifics.″

A conference sponsor, the International Federation of Institutes for Advanced Study, plans to select a few projects for further study by the end of the conference Friday. The Global Infrastructure Fund, meanwhile, will continue trying to persuade leaders of the world’s nations and large corporations to fund its proposals.

It is beyond the control of anyone at the conference to say which, if any, of their paper projects will become reality.

″You need the right political situation for a project to be sanctioned,″ said Sir Hermann Bondi, chairman of the federation, formed in 1972 by the Nobel and Rockefeller foundations. But when the situation is right, the sponsors of mega-projects want to be there, before the political climate shifts again.

″You must be able to answer all the questions,″ said Bondi. ″That is where we in IFIAS feel we have a part to play.″

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