Facts and Figures: Lop Nor and the Nuclear Race

April 20 | 1 Comment

A nuclear explosion in the Lop Nur desertIt wasn’t until late last year that I became interested in the Lop Nor region of the Xinjiang province, probably about the time when I wrote the article about our proud new addition to the area: the world’s largest fertilizer plant.  Since that time I’ve slowly been researching the history and development of the region – mostly out of personal curiosity – and making notes from what I see on Google Earth.  I wasn’t planning on writing about it any time soon except yesterday I ran across a Times Online article which was absolutely fascinating.  I wanted to share a few of the facts from this article as well as some other numbers I’ve run across myself just as a reminder to everybody, including myself, the horrible costs of living in a nuclear world.


  • From 1964 to 1996 China tested 46 nuclear devices in Xinjiang’s Lop Nor region (sometimes spelled “Lop Nur”).
  • Of these tests, 23 were in the atmosphere, 22 were underground, and one explosion failed.
  • The price of the first bomb was roughly equal to a third of the entire state budget for the year 1957
  • As part of the nuclear experiments, a full-scale Beijing subway station was constructed as well as many buildings and roads which can still be seen from satellite images today.
  • China’s three biggest tests generated 4 million times more radioactivity than the Chernobyl disaster.
  • Takada, a Japanese physicist, has calculated that over 1.48 million people have been exposed to contamination over the 32 years that these tests were conducted not including the estimated 190,000 people who have died.


  • Before the NPT, the US tested over 1,000 nuclear devices.
  • Nuclear accidents in the US, which weren’t uncommon (ex: Castle Bravo), as well as mass radiation exposure forced lawmakers to pass the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in 1990 to help pay the medical bills of those who had worked at or lived near the nuclear test sites.
  • China built nuclear weapons because of the US and the USSR.  The USSR built weapons because of the US.  The US built nuclear weapons during WWII because they were afraid Germany might get the upper hand.  It’s all just a bunch of dominoes.


It’s a shame that all of this has to happen, not to mention the trillions, not billions, of dollars that have been spent in development, transport and waste disposal.  Soon China is going to have to own up and pass something similar to the RECA, some form of compensation for the workers and people who lived near the test sites, especially because most of those affected happen to be minorities.

Read the article below.  It’s crazy.  What are your thoughts?


TimesOnline: Revole Stirs among China’s Nuclear Ghosts

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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