Vis­i­tors re­turn to old nu­clear fa­cil­ity

Base in in­tri­cate maze of caves was de­signed to make plu­to­nium in ’60s; now it’s a cu­rios­ity

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By TANYINGZI in Chongqing tanyingzi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A for­mer un­der­ground nu­clear base in South­west China’s Chongqing mu­nic­i­pal­ity re­opened to vis­i­tors this week fol­low­ing a year of ren­o­va­tion work.

Now equipped with modern sound and light­ing sys­tems, 816 Nu­clear Mil­i­tary Plant, once shrouded in se­crecy, looks like a scene from a sci­ence fic­tion movie. It in­cludes a nu­clear sci­ence cen­ter and sec­tions de­voted to pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion and his­tory.

The site, lo­cated in the moun­tains of Ful­ing dis­trict, was once an in­dus­trial base for raw nu­clear ma­te­rial. It was re­ported to be the world’s largest man-made cave, able to with­stand a mag­ni­tude 8.0 earth­quake.

The plant was de­clas­si­fied in April 2002.

In 2010, a small area of the plant was opened to Chi­nese na­tion­als only. Sol­diers guarded the en­trance, and vis­i­tors were re­quired to pro­vide doc­u­ments to en­ter.

“The site is now open to for­eign vis­i­tors and will al­low over­seas part­ners,” said Yang Yan, an ad­min­is­tra­tor at the site. “So far, no for­eign­ers have vis­ited the plant.”

Con­struc­tion of the fa­cil­ity started in 1966 as part of the Third Front Move­ment, a na­tional in­dus­trial devel­op­ment drive on the Chi­nese main­land. The coun­try in­vested heav­ily in na­tional de­fense, tech­nol­ogy in­dus­tries, trans­porta­tion and other in­fra­struc­ture in north­west and south­west re­gions.

The plant was built to pro­duce plu­to­nium-239, but Bei­jing stopped the plant from go­ing into op­er­a­tion in 1984, when con­struc­tion was al­most com­plete.

“This base has never been put into op­er­a­tion or stored any nu­clear ma­te­rial,” Yang said. “There is no need to worry about ra­di­a­tion. It is safe to en­ter.”

The plant has more than 20 kilo­me­ters of caves. It has 18 main caves and more than 130 roads, branch caves, tun­nels and ver­ti­cal shafts.

The largest cave, the nu­clear re­ac­tion hall, is al­most 80 me­ters high and 25 me­ters wide, cov­er­ing 13,000 sq m, al­most 10 per­cent of the plant’s to­tal.

The 17-year con­struc­tion in­volved more than 60,000 sol­diers. At least 100 died in the process.

“A tour takes three hours,” Yang said. “Vis­i­tors must fol­low the guide; oth­er­wise they will get lost in this huge maze­like cave.”

This base has never been put into op­er­a­tion or stored any nu­clear ma­te­rial. There is no need to worry about ra­di­a­tion.” Yang Yan, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the 816 Nu­clear Mil­i­tary Plant

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Vis­i­tors to the re­vamped 816 Nu­clear Mil­i­tary Plant in Chongqing mu­nic­i­pal­ity will see scenes that look like sci­ence fic­tion movies.

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