Tourist site offers glimpse of nuclear age's secrets

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am
 

The Qinghai research base that propelled the mainland into the nuclear age has formally opened to tourists, state media said yesterday.


Visitors to the site of Nuclear City covering 100 sq km in the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture township of Xihai could take pictures in areas that were previously 'top forbidden zones', including the underground command centre, Xinhua said.


Military analysts said the move was aimed at boosting 'red tourism' in the remote northeast province, and would not lead to greater transparency of the military.


The complex was set up in 1958 and work at the base led to the detonation of China's first atomic bomb at the Lop Nur test site in October 16, 1964 and its first hydrogen bomb on June 17, 1967. Work on the projects continued amid the deprivations of the Great Leap Forward and the mass starvation that followed.


The underground command centre comprised eight key segments, including the command room and the telecommunication rooms, the report said. The site was abandoned as a nuclear base in 1993 and the prefectural government moved its offices into the area and renamed it Xihai township after a clean-up.


The central government labelled it a 'patriotic educational demonstration base' in 2003 and the provincial government has spent more than 72 million yuan transforming it into a tourism spot. All work on the project will be completed by October.


The command centre, which sits beneath the township post office and can be accessed only through the mailing centre, had already attracted countless tourists since 2003, Xinhua said.


Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based military expert, said that the lab did not hold any special attraction for him.


'I am concerned only about modern Chinese nuclear weaponry such as jet fighters and missiles,' Mr Chang said. 'I don't think it would be worth visiting a place like that because I can be sure that they [the officials] removed all the valuable things that would interest me.'


But Antony Wong, president of the International Military Association in Macau, said he would visit Qinghai to see the remains of the facility.


'The base is worth a visit even though just a framework is left,' Mr Wong said. 'Because we can imagine how the nuclear programme developed its legacy.'


Atomic number


The number of nuclear explosions carried out by China, from 1964 to 1996 45


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