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Documentary | China's Abandoned Secret Nuclear Base

By ZHANG, GAOWEIALEX REPORTERFYXUANQI YUANICHONGQING|May 20,2022

Chongqing– As the conflict rages on between Ukraine and Russia, a nuclear power country, we are reminded how fragile this world is, and we must remember our history. Over 50 years ago, many nations were racing to arm themselves with nuclear weapons as protection and deterrent from aggressors. Now is the best time to take a step back in history to remind ourselves of what could happen again. With geopolitical instability on the rise in Russia and Ukraine, it’s a good time for reflection.

Places like the 816 Project, a “mysterious place” seated along the Wujiang River in Baitao Town, Fuling District Chongqing, China, are a stark reminder of the threat of nuclear war. The 816 is a declassified abandoned underground nuclear complex that hides more than ten years of construction history of an underground nuclear project. In 1966, the exceptional engineering corps of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) landed in the deep mountains. In the 1960s, tens of thousands of young patriots came here from all over the country. They began the 18-year-long process of excavating the enormous artificial cavern in the world. The total construction area is 104,000 square meters, and the entire length of the 816 Project is about 20 kilometers. 

There are 18 large and small cave rooms, more than 130 roads, 130 branch tunnels, and 600 numbered rooms. It is impossible to find the exit and entrance in the drawer-shaped building cavity without expert guidance. The underground nuclear reactor hall was then the world’s largest artificial cave, with 21 kilometers in length and 79.6 meters in height, equivalent to a 20-story building. It is known as the “world’s first artificial cave” so far, making it a stunning project.

However, the project was temporarily postponed in 1981 and 1982 and was officially terminated two years later. By the time when the nuclear plant was turned into a chemical fertilizer factory some 30 years ago, it had already completed 85% of the construction work and 60% of the installation work.

The ambitious and highly confidential plan to build this military nuclear plant enhanced China’s national defense capability. It prevented possible foreign invasion and nuclear attacks during the China-Soviet Union tensions in the 1960s. It represents China’s most advanced engineering level in its science and technology industry.

On April 8, 2002, the then Science, Technology, and Industry Commission for National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, a now-dissolved constituent of the State Council, approved the declassification of the existence of the State Council the 816 cave. And in April 2010, the relics of the 816 nuclear military plant project were officially opened to the public as a tourist spot, which is a rather unusual twist of fate for the living evidence of its Cold War history.

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