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The U.S. Air Force sponsored research in deep underground construction as early as 1958. The RAND corporation carried out this research, and published proceedings from symposiums held on the subject of construction methods and equipment, utility installation, and the use of nuclear bursts to produce underground cavities.
A great concern to underground construction engineers was the problem of ventilation. They considered it advisable to take into account all types of ventilation contamination, and not just radioactive fallout. Underground works included ingresses, egresses, and accommodations. The first two are generally provided for by shafts or tunnels, while the third requires larger openings, such as halls, chambers, cells, vaults, or other open spaces. Many problems in design and construction are common to all three, but the problems associated with the larger openings in the rock, required for accommodation purposes, are generally more complex and difficult than those for the smaller openings of tunnels or shafts. Operation and maintenance of underground installations can also pose special problems.
Huge boring machines with large-diameter disc-grinders are used in constructing tunnels. Tunnels are needed to link one accommodation area to another, or one facility to another.
The English Chunnel project is the largest engineering project in Europe, and will link France and England through a three-tunnel railway. The eleven boring machines used in the project are so large and so long that they were assembled in underground areas 65 feet high. Six of the machines are digging the submarine tunnel between the Dover Strait and Pas de Calais and five are digging the land tunnels leading away from the channel to aboveground terminals. The front of the boring machine contains tungsten-tipped picks that workers guide with the use of laser projections on video screens.
These boring machines are like huge, steel-encased worms. Sealed in each machine are teams of 35 men who line the cavity of the tunnel with concrete and guide the muck down the track. The machines bore the hole, remove the earth, and pave the inside of the tunnel with precast concrete segments. The digging face of the machine is a 95-ton, 28-foot-6-inch diameter disc, divided into cutting blades. The borer is 300-feet long.
The September, 1983 Omni ran a picture story on the "Subterrene," a nuclear tunnel-boring machine developed at Los Alamos. The machine burrows through deep underground rock, heating it to a molten state (magma), which cools after the Subterrene moves on. The result is a tube with a smooth, glazed lining that can be used for the high-speed transport shuttles that link the sub-base complexes.
Interestingly enough, an inventor named Charles Kaempen has invented a composite pipe that has enormous tensile strength. Kaempen has developed an undersea transportation tube that uses his unique system of lock coupling and merely has to be laid on the sea floor, obviating the need for excavating and tunneling. He has made a proposal to Spain to link Spain and Morocco using his new tube technology.
Tunnel boring is undergoing a boom according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (Dec. 12, 1990). Susan Nelson, director of the American Underground Space Association is quoted in the article as saying, "There is simply a lot more interest in the world these days in tunneling and use of the underground in general." It says the underground is crowded with government-funded mega-projects and proposed projects. The Spanish want to put a tunnel through the Pryenees and bore a road to Morocco on the African coast. The Norwegians want to burrow under the fiords. The Japanese are toying with tunneling through to South Korea. The Canadians are building a tunnel from New Foundland to Prince Edwards Island. In America, there are 87 public-works projects planned in the next three years alone.
Bear in mind the fact that these are all classified as civil engineering projects. Where civil engineering goes today, military engineering has already gone yesterday. In 1959, the Rand Report carried photos of the giant Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs). Large scale military engineering projects may have made extensive use of these machines since the fifties.
Tunneling is getting a boost because of the increasingly crowded global landscape. Planners in Northern Italy are burying stretches of a freeway in a tunnel to avoid cutting a road through historical important forest and farmlands.