China Nuclear Milestones – 1955-2000

1955-59: Six Sino-Soviet nuclear cooperation and assistance agreements are signed, ranging from joint uranium prospecting to the transfer of Soviet nuclear weapon technology.

1960: Soviet advisers and technicians leave China, effectively terminating all nuclear assistance.

1964: China detonates its first atomic bomb at the Lop Nur test site.

1967: China tests its first thermonuclear warhead.

1983: China agrees to provide Algeria a 15-megawatt research reactor; construction begins three years later and is completed in 1993; U.S. intelligence discovers China gave Pakistan a tested nuclear bomb design.

1984: U.S.-China nuclear cooperation agreement is signed but never ratified.

1991: China concludes a nuclear cooperation agreement with Pakistan calling for the supply of a 300-megawatt power reactor.

1992: China refuses to join Russia, Britain, France and the United States in a moratorium on nuclear testing; China joins the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

1993: France completes China’s first 900-megawatt power reactor at Daya Bay.

1994: Iran signs a contract to buy two 300-megawatt power reactors from the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

1995: China conducts its 43rd nuclear test at Lop Nur, and says it will stop testing only when a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty enters into force in 1996.

May 1997: With observer status, China attends its first meeting of the Zangger Committee. Membership would require China to limit its nuclear exports.

September 1997: China issues new rules to control the export of nuclear material and equipment. Sales now require approval by the State Council.

September 1997: China announces that it will join the Zangger Committee as a full member, but diplomatic sources say China will keep its policy of not requiring full-scope safeguards for its nuclear exports.

October 1997: China gives the United States a written pledge that it will make no new nuclear deals with Iran. President Clinton responds by announcing that he will approve the export of advanced U.S. nuclear technology to China.

December 1997: Peter Lee, an American physicist working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, pleads guilty to passing classified information relating to nuclear weapon simulations to the Chinese Government in 1985.

March 1998: It is reported that in January 1998 the U.S. National Security Agency discovered China negotiating the secret sale of millions of dollars worth of a material used to process uranium to weapon grade (anhydrous hydrogen fluoride – AHF) to the Isfahan Nuclear Research Center in Iran. U.S. officials claim the deal was dropped after U.S. protests.

March 1998: The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), China’s chief organization in charge of nuclear research, engineering, development, and materials production, is quietly abolished as part of a program to reform China’s nuclear power industry.

April 1999: U.S. intelligence officials say April 2 intelligence report reveals that China has “revived” negotiations with Iran regarding the construction of a graphite production facility. The talks are between the China Non-Metallic Minerals Industrial Import-Export Corporation and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)

May 1999: U.S. officials say that in 1995, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) obtained a 1988 Chinese military document describing significant details of six U.S. nuclear warheads and the ballistic missiles that carry them. The material is key to an investigation of whether American nuclear weapon secrets were passed to the Chinese.

May 1999: The U.S. Senate responds to allegations of Chinese spying by passing legislation aimed at tightening security at U.S. nuclear laboratories and adopting a set of proposals that expands Congressional oversight of technology exports to China.

July 1999: China boasts that it mastered the technology to build a neutron bomb in the 1970s and 1980s.

September 1999: China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi tells reporters that Chinese “nuclear weapons will not be directed towards … Taiwan.”

October 1999: It is reported that the Chinese government has decided to allot $9.7 billion to boost its nuclear second strike capabilities.

November 1999: Sha Zukang, China’s top arms control official, warns that an American national missile defense system could lead to a nuclear arms race, and would threaten plans to bring China into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

January 2000: It is reported that Chinese spies stole Canadian nuclear secrets to build in Beijing a copy of the Slowpoke research reactor, developed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

May 2000: Pakistan’s nuclear power plant, Chashma, goes critical.

May 2000: China blocks the implementation of a 1985 nuclear cooperative agreement with the United States by refusing to provide assurances that it will not sell U.S. technology to other nations. The Chinese government claims it will be too difficult to distinguish between indigenously developed technology and U.S. technology.