Former Chinese Nuclear Site Now a Tourist Attraction

06.23.10 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

China recently opened to the public a massive underground former nuclear weapons facility known as Project 816 in Chongqing, and video footage of the site was featured in a recent report (pdf) from the DNI Open Source Center.

The Chongqing facility, which began construction in 1967 (some say 1966), was originally intended to house plutonium production reactors.  But construction ceased in 1984, and the site was apparently never operational.  Its existence was declassified by the Chinese government in 2003 (some say 2002), and it was opened to public tours in April of this year.

Two Chinese television news reports on the facility were translated by the Open Source Center.

“Project 816 is a gigantic system hidden in an inconspicuous mountain,” the TV narrator said in the OSC translation.  “According to experts, Project 816 is the world’s biggest artificial cave.”  It consists of a massive chamber “with multiple stories and caves within the caves, making it like a maze.”  There are “over 130 roads, tunnels, and passages, totaling 21 kilometers in length.”

“Nuclear bombs are a great mystery to many,” said Hu Lindan, an official at the site, in one of the news clips.  “The place to make nuclear bombs must be an even bigger mystery.  Plus, ours is an underground one.  It is so immense that we call it the Underground Great Wall.”

A copy of the OSC report with links to the translated video clips was obtained by Secrecy News and posted on the Federation of American Scientists website.  See “Subtitled Clips of China’s Declassified Underground Nuclear Facility in Chongqing,” Open Source Center, April 22-23, 2010.  The facility was also described in “Project 816 – Unfinished plutonium production complex in China” by Hui Zhang in the International Panel on Fissile Materials blog, June 5.

“Visitors can now pay 40 yuan for a tour of this once top-secret facility,” China Daily reported yesterday. “However, staff at the entrance warned that, due to ‘confidential matters’, both foreigners and the use of cameras are prohibited.”

“It is so sad,” said one former worker. “The base was supposed to be the largest nuclear facility in China, not a tourist attraction.”  See “Nuclear Reaction to Tourist Attraction” by Peng Yining, China Daily, June 22, 2010.

“Underground facilities are being used to conceal and protect critical activities that pose a threat to the United States,” according to a 1999 report from the JASON defense advisory panel. “The proliferation of such facilities is a legacy from the [first] Gulf War: a lesson from this war was that almost any above-ground facility is vulnerable to attack and destruction by precision guided weapons.  To counter this vulnerability, many countries have moved their assets underground.”

“Hundreds of underground installations have been constructed worldwide,” the JASONs observed at that time, “and many more are under construction.”  See “Characterization of Underground Facilities” (pdf), April 1999.