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Lop Nor Nuclear Weapons Test Base

Located in Malan, Xinjiang Autonomous Region. (between 87.12E/42.14N and 87.52E/42.15N). Location of China's single nuclear weapons test site. Under the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND) with close ties to the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Established on 16 October 1959. Construction began on 1 April 1960. On 21 November 1958, Soviet advisers recommended the location after joint surveys of several areas. Contains nuclear testing and missile impact sites. Between 1964 and 1996, China conducted 45 nuclear tests at Lop Nor.

The test site is the world's largest, occupying an area of over 100,000 sq km, with over 2,000 km of highways. Commercial satellite imagery shows that about 20,000 sq km have been used for testing. No duplicate facility was ever built under the "Third Line." Also the site for China's nuclear weapons training. Possibly also the location of a nuclear weapons stockpile. The headquarters of the test base is in Malan, about 125 km northwest of Qinggir.

Lop Nor contains four testing zones, three for underground testing and one for atmospheric. Only two of the zones are currently used, which occupy an area of about 200 sq km.

Testing zones:

(1) QINGGIR REGION: Used for vertical shaft tests. Test site for 13 of China's 22 underground tests.

(2) NANSHAN REGION: Northwest of Qinggir. Used for tunnel shots.

(3) BEISHAN REGION: Southwest of Qinggir. Used for tunnel shots.

(4) REGION FOR ATMOSPHERIC TESTING: Inactive. Last used on 16 October 1980.

Lop Nur can be divided into three districts:


(a) Scientific city of Malan, the headquarters of the test site and residence for the scientists, engineers, and technicians. Located about 100 km northwest of the test site. The town has a notable infrastructure, including an airport.

(b) A nuclear institute (possibly the Red Mountain Institute), tens of km northwest of Malan, which acts as a nuclear research center, including the study of hydromechanics, optics, physics, radiation, chemistry, computing, and data management. The institute also houses archives on nuclear explosions, anti-nuclear warfare, nuclear weapons designs, etc.

(2) SOUTHEAST DISTRICT   Site of China's multi-megaton nuclear explosions and other atmospheric testing.   (3) CENTRAL DISTRICT

Underground nuclear tests are conducted here. A few low-yield atmospheric tests were also carried out here. The district includes three underground test zones:

(a) Southern test zone, where tunnel testing was conducted until 27 October 1995 in horizontal shafts.

(b) Western test zone: the tunnel test zone where tests are conducted in horizontal shafts.

(c) Eastern test zone, where tests are conducted in deep vertical shafts.


Lop Nur is a likely site for interim high-level waste (HLW) storage and an eventual repository.

[Sources: Robert S. Norris, "French And Chinese Nuclear Weapon Testing," Security Dialogue, March 1996, p. 48; Nuclear Weapons Databook, Volume 5, p. 339; Vipin Gupta, "Assessment Of The Chinese Nuclear Test Site Near Lop Nor," Jane's Intelligence Review, August 1993, pp. 379-380; Tracking Nuclear Proliferation, p. 52; Risk Report, November 1995, p. 7; China Builds the Bomb, p. 180.]


Last Updated June 1998

CNSThis 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, agents. Copyright © 2007 by MIIS.

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