Nuclear technology plan to irrigate desert site

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 December, 1997, 12:00am

Scientists plan to irrigate the deadly Lop Nur desert, the former nuclear weapons testing ground, by using nuclear technology to divert water there from Qinghai and Tibet.

The plan, which would be carried out in the next century, threatens to raise serious ecological problems in Lop Nur and other parts of the Tarim Basin in southern Xinjiang.

He Zuoxiu, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, started working on the idea in 1972.

He told Xinhua that tunnels should be dug through the Kunlun and Altun mountains on the Xinjiang-Qinghai border, diverting water to the basin from the Yarlung Zangbo River in southern Tibet and the Yangtze River in Qinghai.

'The best way is to use nuclear technology to dig through the Kunlun mountains,' he said. Xinhua did not mention possible radiation problems resulting from employing nuclear technology. Another ecological concern is a possible drop in water levels in lower streams of the two rivers.

The diversion plan for the Yarlung Zangbo River would be a particularly sensitive issue because it flows south into northern India and Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

Scientists have also suggested building a 1,000-kilometre road to link western Gansu province and the Lop Nur and a railway which would connect southern Xinjiang and Qinghai, passing through the desert.

Scientists believe the plans will be realised as Beijing has spent about 100 million yuan (HK$93 million) looking for new oil reserves in the area.

Geologists recently discovered a sylvanite mine near Lop Nur.