National Geographic : 1990 Mar
of gravel and other materials as insulation. By many accounts, builders of the BAM didn't have the time to do their job right. They had a preordained schedule, and Brezhnev wouldn't hear of delays. "The track was laid, the completion reports were written," said one official. And then track bed sank in the ice melt. Rails twisted, tunnel walls collapsed. Repairs and detours threw the BAM five years behind schedule. T HE BAM was expected to open new areas for exploitation, for timber and copper, but there is just one payoff now. That's at Neryungri, 900 miles northeast of Irkutsk. Its buildings, gleaming white, are a strange sight in the spruce and fir of the taiga. Only 15 years old and already the home of 120,000, Neryungri is on a north-aimed rail spur, the Little BAM. It's there because of coal, scooped from a three-mile-long open pit. Japan invested three billion dollars in this mine and receives five million tons of coking coal a year, about half the production. Nikolai Ivanov has invested five years of his life here and gets about 1,500 rubles a month. I met him at the end of a shift. Churning mud, drivers wheeled into a squishy parking area in giant U. S.-made Lectra Haul and Soviet BelAz trucks that carry 180 tons each, and 120-ton Japanese Komatsus. It seemed like a gathering of elephants. A rope of a man, Nikolai was lured by the money-three times what he earned in Sverd lovsk in the Urals. Like many here, he's saving to buy a car and a better flat back home. That's about all you can hope for in Neryun gri. Never have I seen citizens with so many things to be angry about. I was at the train depot when shrieking passengers mobbed poor stationmaster Viktor Grachev; the public-address system had announced yet another delay of the mainland-bound train, already three hours tardy. The city's central heating plant was down, which meant no hot water in flats. (Thank goodness it was summer.) Beside a shack made from packing crates, a nine-year veteran of Neryungri said bitterly: "I was deceived. The promises of good living conditions were never fulfilled." Hot water? He doesn't even have cold water in his shack. It's another BIOB; Brezhnev insisted on industry first, social needs later. Then we have the angry Evenk, one of Sibe ria's 30 indigenous groups. Numbering 4,000 in this region, the Evenk watched develop ment gobble up their reindeer pastures while wastes poisoned streams and poachers killed their animals. "We must fight," declared young Valentin Alekseev. Indeed, the Evenk have complained all the way to Moscow. At least, Valentin said, "No one is closing doors to us like they used to." Long summer days of Siberia's northern lati tudes attract sunbathers to a beach on the Ob River near Novosibirsk. After the dark and bone-chilling winter ends, Siberians relish their all-too-brief stretch of warm weather, taking to the outdoors for camping, boating, fishing, and barbecues.