West monitors Chinese nuclear sites for quake damage

The main Chinese centres for designing, making and storing nuclear arms lie in the earthquake zone, leading Western experts to look for signs of any damage that might allow radioactivity to escape, the New York Times reported on Friday.

A senior United States official, who spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of the situation, said spy satellites and other means were being used to try to monitor the nuclear plants. "There appear to be no immediate concerns," the official said. Nonetheless, according to Hans M Kristensen, a nuclear arms expert at the Federation of American Scientists, "it’s potentially a serious issue". He added: "Radioactive materials could be released if there’s damage."

China began building the plants in the 1960s, calculating that their remote locations would make them less vulnerable to enemy attack.The main complex for making nuclear warhead fuel is beside a river in a hilly, forested part of the earthquake zone outside Guangyuan in Sichuan province. Reactors are usually rigged to shut down in an earthquake.

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