China's numerous "third line" highly secret, remote and difficult to detect nuclear facilities—which were constructed in 1960s in an effort to duplicate critical defense infrastructure—span the entire country; however nuclear facilities, both secret and public, are primarily concentrated in the Sichuan province.The principle nuclear facility is the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP) in Mianyang, Sichuan province. CAEP overseas 12 institutesdedicated to nuclear weapons research and design as well as nuclear and non-nuclear component development.In the last 15-20 years, the attention of China's nuclear program has been diverted from nuclear weapons towards civilian commercial energy.Since decommissioning most of China's military nuclear facilities, Chinese nuclear authorities has focused on plutonium and uranium enrichment for civilian nuclear energy. The primary plutonium processing plants for weapons grade plutonium were closed between 1984 and 1990. China has reportedly ceased the processing of plutonium and uranium enrichment for nuclear weapons; the exact volume of China's plutonium stockpiles is unclear. However, experts David Wright and Lisbeth Gronlund argue that amount ranges from 1-5 tons.The highly enriched uranium stockpiles are estimated to be 15-25 tons.China's maintained fissile material stockpiles have remained constant since 1991.
The Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) is the ultimate authority with regards to China's nuclear weapons, and the management of the relevant facilities.The PLA Second Artillery Corps is responsible for the deployment of nuclear weapons. The Second Artillery Corps answers directly to the CMC General Staff Department (GSD). The GSD is responsible for operational command of nuclear forces. Under the approval of the CMC, the GSD is responsible for the nuclear doctrine. China maintains a doctrine of minimum deterrence, and adheres to a no-first-use (NFU) policy.
The CMC has delegated authority over Chinese military nuclear facilities to the General Armaments Department (GAD), which is led by Gen. Chang Wanquan. The GAD is responsible for nuclear weapons research, development, testing, and military application. The nuclear facilities are led directly by the General Armaments Department (GAD) of the CMC; the facilities are operated at the discretion of the Chairman of the CMC.
The Chinese National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is the principle governing body managing the civilian reactors. Important bodies within the civilian nuclear power leadership are the Chinese Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) and Chinese Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA). The CNNC holds authority over many civilian power reactors such as the Yibin Nuclear Fuel Component Plant, which is responsible for plutonium processing for civilian use. The CNNC also maintains authority over the CIAE which remains a principle organization dedicated to plutonium fuel science research and development. Nuclear facilities such as CAEP are directly under the supervision of the GAD, but also work, since 2008, with State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). Previously, SASTIND was its own ministry-level organization--the Commission of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND). Prior to the 2008 reorganization, which saw the entity reduced in rank, COSTIND maintained research and development with the industrial enterprises which are contracted with GAD, such as the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). SASTIND appears to continue in this role.
China's first uranium enrichment plant, located in Lanzhou, Gansu province, was developed and made operational in 1964. The Lanzhou Gaseous Diffusion Plant operated commercially from 1980-1997; it, however, has been decommissioned. Another civilian enrichment plant at the same site, with 500,000 Separate Work Units (SWU) per year capacity, has been developed through Russian-Chinese third phase enrichment plant agreement. China's nuclear fuel cycle facilities have undergone numerous changes since the early 1980s, including the closure of the Jiuquan Atomic Energy Complex (Gansu province) in 1984 and to the decommissioning Guangyuan Plant 821 in Sichuan province in 1990. The highly enriched uranium (HEU) production facilities at Lanzhou and Heping (Sichuan province) have reportedly ended production of HEU for the military. The Heping Enrichment Plant produced highly enriched uranium for military purposes from 1975-1989; however, it is thought to be decommissioned. A gas centrifuge enrichment plant at Hanzhun was developed in cooperation with a Russian company Tenex, and is under IAEA safeguards. In 1996, Phase I of the Hanzhun Enrichment Plant agreement began where 200,000 SWU per year capacity was installed. In 1998, Phase II of the agreement say Hanzhun upgraded to a total of 500,000 SWU per year capacity. Phase III resulted in the construction of a 500,000 SWU facility in Lanzhou in 2001. Finally, in 2007 Tenex and China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC) signed an agreement to provide technical assistance to construct the 500,000 SWU per year capacity for Hanzhun enrichment plant to commence in 2010 as part of phase IV of the Russia-China enrichment plant agreement.
Presently, China has 11 commercially operated nuclear power reactors under the leadership of either the CNNC or the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPC). Fourteen more civilian power reactor facilities are under construction, and ten are set to begin construction in 2009.
Uranium is mined in several sites including: Fuzhou (Fujian province), Chongyi (Jiangxi province), Yining (Xinjiang Autonomous Region), Lantian (Shaanxi province), and Benxi (Liaoning province). Once the uranium is milled it is transported to the Lanzhou Conversion Plant in Gansu province where it is converted to UF6. After conversion it is enriched at the Lanzhou plant or the Hanzhun facility in Shaanxi province. Both facilities have a 500,000 SWU per year enrichment plants. The enriched uranium is sent to Yibin Nuclear Fuel Complex or the Baotou Nuclear Fuel Complex for fabrication. Spent fuel is stored in nuclear power plants throughout the country. There is a reprocessing plant under construction in Lanzhou, and a wet storage facility under construction in the Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex. HEU would then be placed in a bomb core and assembled.
Harbin in Heilongjiang province is the location of a possible warhead production site. Plant 821 site located in Guangyuan, Sichuan province, was a former weapons assembly facility. The warhead production site receives non-nuclear components from either the Baotou Nuclear Fuel Component plant or Institute 905 of the CAEP. The status of Harbin weapons assembly facility is unknown. China halted uranium enrichment for military purposes in 1987 and plutonium production for military purposes in 1991. Many of the military facilities were redirected towards supporting China's civilian power reactors.
The CAEP is responsible for nuclear weapons research and design, and is still in operation despite the unofficial moratorium on fissile material production. The CAEP has 12 institutes including the Institute of Applied Physics and Mathematics in Beijing which is responsible for nuclear weapons design computations. Before China halted nuclear weapon testing in 1996, the CAEP likely collaborated with the Northwest Nuclear Technology Institute in Malan, Xinjiang on nuclear research. However, the extent of this interaction is unknown. The Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Research engages in nuclear warhead for ballistic missiles development. The CAEP is the primary facility for nuclear weapons research and design, while the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Research holds responsibility over China's nuclear missile program.