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China to open ex-atomic site to tourists

Oct. 17, 2012 at 6:45 AM   |   Comments

BEIJING, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- China plans so spend around $1 million cleaning up a former atomic bomb test sight and open it up to tourists.

The deserted Malan Base in the remote Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China will be turned into a "red tourism" site, a local official told the state-run news agency Xinhua.

More than half a century ago Chinese scientists worked day and night to develop the country's first atomic bomb which eventually was detonated successfully in the desert near the site in 1964, Xinhua reported.

Four years later China exploded its first hydrogen bomb, at the same Lop Nur Test Range -- named after the local shallow lake -- in the Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture.

China's path to its first atomic bomb explosion was called Project 596 after the month of June 1959 in which it was initiated. The driving force for Project 596 was Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev's decision on that date to stop helping the Chinese with their nuclear program.

The 22-kiloton blast made China the fifth nuclear power after the United States in 1945, then Russia in 1949, the United Kingdom and then France in 1960.

Laboratories, dormitories and an underground air raid shelter nearly 1,000 feet long at the site will be reopened as part of the project which is being led by the local government and Tsinghua University in Beijing.

China's first atomic bomb detonation was "of great historic significance at a time when the country was faced with a complex international environment," the Xinhua article said.

China has never used an atomic bomb in an attack and suspended its nuclear weapon programs in 1996. The country "is committed to advancing global nuclear disarmament," Xinhua said.

The move is part of the Red Tourism push, a strategy started by the ruling Communist Party in late 2004, the government-run magazine China Pictorial says on its website.

The communists fought a long bloody war to take power from the governing nationalist party in 1949 along "a road of hardship, passion, romance and glory," China Pictorial says.

"Today, increasing numbers of Chinese with an interest in history are enthusiastically revisiting former revolutionary bases and landmark sites. This is red tourism."

How many Communist Party faithful will visit the Malan base on their holidays is open to question, a report by the BBC said. It is one of the remotest and inhospitable areas in all China.

Lop Nur, which was the largest lake in northwestern China, dried up in 1972 as a result of desertification and environmental degradation, making it the "sea of death," the government says.

China's national museum website Science Museums of China says Lop Nur now appears on satellite pictures as "a desolate land with rings and rings of salt shells."

In 1980, A well-known Chinese scientist Peng Jiamu went missing on his fourth expedition to Lop Nur and was never found.

The region also is home to some of China's largest mines exploiting huge potash deposits. The Lop Nur area has an estimated 500 million tons of reserves, a report by the Chinese government's official website.

To exploit the potash, China has been building dozens of rail lines and by 2020, the region's total rail mileage will be around 6,500 miles, the government estimates.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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