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Veterans remember China's first atomic bomb
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Twenty-seven veterans who took part in the detonation of China's first atomic bomb in 1964 gathered in Guangzhou for a commemorative party on October 16. They recalled the great historical event and their experiences together.

Fu Hongtie, who was 23 years old and had just graduated from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, went to the Malan Base of Heshuo County in Korla City of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on May 28, 1964.

There were more than 100,000 residents there at that time. "Seven other graduates and I gathered in Beijing and set out for Xinjiang together. They had just graduated from Tsinghua University, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Peking University, majoring in dynamics, auto control, nuclear physics, and others."

"At that time we didn't know where we would go, but we knew we would undertake a very important mission," Fu Hongtie recalled. After three days and four nights they reached the base in Xinjiang. Fu Hongtie was just one of the 4,000 college graduates who were dispatched there to take part in the mission.

Fang Jianxin, who was sent to the base in 1968 as the secretary for the commander, experienced several explosions of atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs of different scales and different styles.

He said the key point of atomic bomb explosions was to decide the time, and the prime point was the weather. Because the wind at the base is from west to east, they had to choose days when there was no rain or snow -- otherwise the pollutants in the explosion cloud fall and poison the soil.

Once the time was decided, the commander would lead the team to patrol in an area of 120 kilometers in diameter centered with the explosion point to make sure there were no residents.

"Everybody in the headquarters felt nervous when the broadcast count down before every explosion. The explosion fire ball rose as a sun and exploded in the sky, and then a mushroom cloud appeared in the sky," he described the scene at headquarters.

Another goal of the explosion experiments was to collect data. All things in everyday lives can be found there as samples, from airplanes to little white mice, even including replicas of the subway of Beijing and the Yangtze River Bridge of Wuhan City.

All these samples were distributed in an area from 2-20 kilometers from the explosion center before the test to see their experiences after the experiment.

After the explosion, antichemical team members rushed into the explosion areas to test the content of radioactivity at the sites. Until they confirmed the level of radioactivity was reduced to a safe range other people could not enter the area.

"The locomotive of a train was turned over, the tank was burned to red, the cannons of the tanks were agglomerated and the bridge was smashed," Fang Jianxin recalled the scene after explosions.

Fang Jianxin said the biggest problem at the test base was a shortage of water. The water in the nearby river was bitter. They drilled a 500-meter-deep well, and the water was bitter too. The water treated by the desalting machine was also bitter. They finally had to carry water from a place 300 kilometers away.

At that time, water was more valuable than petroleum. There's a basin of water for every person every day and the used water was also reclaimed for some project sites.

Another problem at the base was the weather. The lowest winter temperature there was -30 ℃ and highest temperature in summer was 50 ℃. Fang Jianxin said, "If we put an egg on the earth in the hottest part of summer, the egg would be cooked after a few minutes."

Sandstorms stronger than force ten also attacked the base unexpectedly. The sandstorm would scrape the paint off the cars and smash the glass. Once a team encountered a sandstorm and lost their way. They had to park the truck there and wait. All the men squatted behind the cab, covered their heads with plastic bags, and made women hide in the cab.

Huang Xionghan, who went to the base in 1961 when he graduated from South China University of Technology, said his group was mainly in charge of the collection of the explosion data.

They had to go to the polluted area to get the data on five aspects: ray radiation, bow waves, instant nuclear radiation, extended nuclear radiation, and electromagnetism interference.

Huang Xionghan, whose duty was data analysis, went to the explosion site just two hours after the first ever explosion on the afternoon of October 16, 1964. He said he could even see the mushroom cloud above his head, because they had to collect all samples in the shortest time possible.

(Guangzhou Daily translated for by Chen Lin October 30, 2007)

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