Thursday, May 15, 2008

Earthquake May Affect Chinese Nuclear Weapons Complex

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked southwest China on Tuesday may have implications for China’s nuclear weapons complex, as recently highlighted by Jocelyn Ford on NPR’s Science Friday blog.

The quake’s destruction reached the nearby city of Mianyang where the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), which includes the country’s nuclear weapons research, development and testing labs, is located. Dan Stillman, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory official, referred to CAEP in 2001 as “China's equivalent to our Los Alamos, Sandia, and Lawrence Livermore nuclear laboratories.”

An interesting aside, Stillman travelled to China multiple times during the 1990s, including numerous visits to nuclear weapons facilities, where he had extensive discussions with scientists, government officials, and nuclear weapons designers. He eventually produced a 500-page manuscript entitled “Inside China’s Nuclear Weapons Program,” but the book was later blocked by the CIA on the grounds that it contained classified information.

The distance between the epicenter of earthquake (as identified by the U.S. Geological Survey) and CAEP is approximately 90 miles (or 143 km). Provided below is an image using Google Earth to demonstrate the close proximity between the two. Click to enlarge.

A subsidiary of CAEP, the Institute of Nuclear Physics and Chemistry (INPC) includes a high-temperature and high-density plasma physics laboratory, a thermal-neutron experimental reactor, a pulsed fast neutron reactor, a high-power laser installation, and various accelerators.

The Xinhua News Agency reported earlier this week that, in addition to thousands killed and tens of thousands more under rubble, the quake had “caused serious damage to buildings, roads and telecommunications facilities in Mianyang.” It is fair to assume that some of this damage extended to CAEP facilities, especially considering that the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection dispatched a 21-member team, including a number of nuclear safety experts, to assess the contamination risks.

1 comment:

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