Ex-nuclear site marked for tourism

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 June, 2009, 12:00am

One of the mainland's former nuclear-weapons facilities will be developed into a site for 'red tourism'. The area, in Xinjiang's mountainous Heshuo county, was a centre for nuclear research and an army command centre during the 1960s.

'Red tourism' is increasing in popularity among mainland holidaymakers and is encouraged by the government as a form of patriotic education. Popular sites include former Communist Party base areas in Jiangxi and Shaanxi .

The mainland detonated its first atomic bomb on October 16, 1964, in Xinjiang's Lop Nor desert, becoming the world's fifth nuclear power. It launched its first nuclear missile in 1966 and exploded its first hydrogen bomb in 1967. The site, which was home to key scientists and generals, was abandoned in the 1980s.

Many military buildings and facilities remain in good order, including a 300 metre air-defence tunnel.

Local authorities would invest 200 million yuan (HK$227 million) in the 37 sq km site, Xu Shihai, Heshuo county's deputy chief, was quoted as saying by the China News Service.

Last year 12,000 people visited the area. Officials hope to tap into the demand for patriotic education and link the site with the area's minority cultures and natural beauty. Officials estimate 700,000 people will visit the area each year by 2025, generating revenue of 280 million yuan.

The mainland started developing nuclear weapons with support from the Soviet Union in the 1950s, but as bilateral ties worsened in June 1959, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev halted aid. In the same month Beijing launched Project 596 to perform a nuclear test. Five years later, it surprised world observers with the speed of its success.