Experts Argue Over Korea-Japan Undersea Tunnel

Public attention is again focused on the proposed construction of a undersea tunnel in Busan that would link Korea and Japan, an idea that has long been reviewed and discussed by both countries. Busan City Hall and the Busan Development Institute will host an international conference on the proposed tunnel next Tuesday to discuss why it's needed.

◆ Three Tunnels Under Review

Currently three tunnels are under review. The first at 209 km would link Karatsu in Saga Prefecture, Japan to the southern island known as Shimonoshima of Japan's Tsushima to Geoje in Korea's South Gyeongsang Province. The second tunnel (217 km) would link Karatsu to the nothern island (or Kaminoshima) of Tsushima, to Geoje. The third tunnel (231 km) would link Karatsu to Tsushima to Busan.

Each of the routes has been suggested by Japanese experts who have studied the idea. Whichever route is chosen, its length would be more than four times that of the Channel Tunnel (50.54km) linking Britain and France. If it's built, it would be the longest undersea tunnel in the world.

Each route has its merits and faults. The Karatsu-Shimonoshima-Geoje route is the shortest but its undersea sections are the longest. The Karatsu-Kaminoshima-Geoje route is similar to the first except that it crosses Tsushima.

The third tunnel linking Busan is relatively linear but it's the longest and it would pass through a seismic zone. On the other hand, it would be close to Busan Port, and thus be more efficient and economically sensible. The undersea sections on this route total 128km, about 20km shorter than the other two.

It's estimated that it would cost around W60 trillion to W100 trillion (US $1=W925) and 15 to 20 years to build a tunnel. That's more than five times the cost and three times the construction time of the Channel Tunnel (W14 trillion, six years).

No decision has been made yet on which tunnel might be built, or if it would include railways in addition to roads. Experts predict the costs and construction time will likely increase depending on the functions and the route.

◆ Pros and Cons

The main issue is whether the project is economically feasible. Supporters say it would make money because Japanese shippers would pay toll charges to send cargo from Japan to the continent.

According to Park Jin-hee, a professor at Korea Maritime University, it currently costs $665 to ship a container (20 feet) from Osaka to Busan. With an undersea tunnel, that price would drop to $472, almost a 30 percent savings.

Park said, "The increased rate of growth potential caused by the construction of an undersea tunnel is around just 5 percent for Japan. But it's about 9 to 150 percent for Korea."

Jung Hun-young, a professor of urban engineering at Pusan National University, said, "An undersea tunnel would be highly likely to create an economic zone encompassing the southeastern region of Korea led by Busan, and the Kyushu region of Japan."

But the project's opponents say Korea would gain nothing from a tunnel, and it would only end up helping Japan advance into the continent. Choi Yeol, a professor of urban engineering at Pusan National University, said, "An undersea tunnel would add a Japan-size sphere of influence to the southeastern region of Korea. But Japan could extend its sphere to the Eurasian continent. That means the two countries would have disproportionate spheres of influence."

Opponents cited a 2003 study on the proposed project by the Korea Transport Institute at the request of the Ministry of Construction and Transportation. The study concluded that none of the three proposed tunnels, one of which would pass through an undersea volcanic region, would be economically feasible.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 11, 2007 08:42 KST