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Lop Nor Nuclear Weapons Test Base

Last Modified: July 26, 2012
Other Name: 罗布泊核试验基地; Lop Nur
Location: Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China
Subordinate To: General Armaments Department (GAD)
Size: Approximately 100,000 square kilometers
Facility Status: Research and training facilities operational. Last official test: 29 July 1996

Lop Nor is China’s only nuclear weapons test site, conducts nuclear weapons training and may be a major nuclear weapons stockpile location.[1] The Lop Nor test site covers 100,000 square kilometers, making it the largest in the world by a factor of almost twenty.[2] Approximately 20,000 square kilometers have been used for nuclear testing purposes, with such a large size attributed to the full spectrum of nuclear tests conducted at this single location.[3]

China formally established the Lop Nor Nuclear Test Base on 16 October 1959 with Soviet assistance in selection of the site.[4] Lop Nor was the site of China’s first nuclear test, with ground zero located at approximately 42.35N, 88.30E.[5] Subsequent tests have been conducted on towers, from airplanes, by missiles, underground and in the atmosphere.[6]

Lop Nor’s headquarters are located in Malan, and lies between the settlements of Uxxaktal and Yushugou. Tens of kilometers north of Malan is the Scientific Research District, host to the Red Mountain institute, which is managed by the Northwest Nuclear Technology Institute and conducts research on nuclear explosions, weapons and warfare.[7]

Four nuclear testing zones exist at Lop Nor:

  • Qinggir: The site of 13 of China’s 20 underground tests
  • Nanshan: Located to the northwest of Qinggir and used for tunnel shots
  • Beishan: Located to the southwest of Qinggir and was used for two underground tests in 1969 and 1976
  • Atmospheric test zone: Located 115 kilometers southeast of the Qinggir, this test zone was the site of atmospheric nuclear tests until China’s last such test on 16 October 1980[8]

China conducted its 45th and final nuclear test at Lop Nor on 29 July 1996, before issuing a formal moratorium on nuclear testing the following day.[9] In 2001 China is suspected of having conducted a series of four subcritical tests at Lop Nor, and constructed an additional adit on site (opening to a tunnel for conducting nuclear tests) sometime between 2000 and 2005.[10]

In 2008 China began paying subsidies to “some military personnel and civilians” who took part in nuclear tests and may have suffered health problems from exposure to radiation.[11]

Sources:
[1] Robert Norris, Andrew S. Burrows and Richard Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Volume 5 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), p. 339.
[2] Robert Norris, “French and Chinese Nuclear Weapon Testing,” Security Dialogue, 1996, Volume 27, p. 48.
[3] Vipin Gupta, “Assessment of the Chinese Nuclear Test Site near Lop Nor,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, 1 August 1993, p. 380.
[4] John W. Lewis and Xue Litai, China Builds the Bomb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), p. 177.
[5] Robert Norris, Andrew S. Burrows and Richard Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Volume 5 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), p. 350.
[6] Robert Norris, Andrew S. Burrows and Richard Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Volume 5 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), p. 339; Vipin Gupta, “Assessment of the Chinese Nuclear Test Site Near Lop Nor,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, 1 August 1993, p. 380.
[7] Robert Norris, Andrew S. Burrows and Richard Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Volume 5 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), p. 339.
[8] Robert Norris, “French and Chinese Nuclear Weapon Testing,” Security Dialogue, 1996, Volume 27, p. 48.
[9] Teresa Poole, “China's Last Explosion Ends Nuclear Tests,” The Independent, 30 July 1996.
[10] Jeffrey Lewis, “Subcritical Testing at Lop Nor,” Arms Control Wonk, 3 April 2009, http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com.
[11] David Lague, “China Now Pays Troops Involved In Nuclear Tests,” New York Times, 28 January 2008.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

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