Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chinese Aircraft, Nuclear Sites Dodge Quake Damage



Chinese Aircraft, Nuclear Sites Dodge Quake Damage


TAIPEI — The May 12 earthquake that devastated Sichuan Province in central China appears to have spared key aviation and nuclear weapon industries and facilities in the region from serious damage, according to experts. The two most important cities are Chengdu for commercial and military aircraft programs and Mi­anyang, a “Science City” that is the heart of China’s nuclear arms re­search and manufacturing.

“The epicenter of the Sichuan earthquake was in Wenchuan County … roughly 100 miles west­southwest of Mianyang,” said one U.S. specialist on China’s nuclear weapon program. “While the dam­age in Sichuan was massive, friends in Mianyang report the damage there was moderate and at the CAEP ‘Science City,’ ‘not se­rious.’ We have no reports on the possible damage to the several nu­clear materials production and weapons fabrication facilities lo­cated in such places as Guangyuan, Ebian and Yibin.”

The quake, which registered 7.8 on the Richter scale, has leveled entire cities, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and killing at least 20,000, according to Chinese government estimates.

According to Mark Stokes, a for­mer defense attaché to China and former Pentagon country officer who is now executive director of the Washington-based Project 2049 Institute, it could be a while before the true extent of damage, if any, to nuclear facilities in the area is known. “The Chinese government has a history of hiding bad news. ... If there was damage to those nu­clear fuel facilities, there’s a chance they could be tempted to keep it low key or maybe keep in­ ternational inspectors away,” he said.

Sichuan Province is also home to numerous aviation facilities, in­cluding Chengdu Aircraft Indus­trial Co. (CAC) in Chengdu. CAC makes the Skywing UAV and J-10, FC-1 and F-7MG fighters. There are unconfirmed reports CAC is developing a stealth fighter.

Of the two cities, more attention is focused on Mianyang, where nu­clear physics and laser technology work is performed by the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), which is the principal re­ search and design facility for nu­clear weapons, and the Institute of Nuclear Physics and Chemistry (INPC). Guangyuan is the location of the Guangyuan Plutonium Pro­duction Reactor and Reprocess­ing Plant, considered the largest plutonium production facility in China. “The problem would be a crack or leak in the nuclear fuel produc­tion and reprocessing facilities,” Stokes said.