TIBET’S ABRUPT ENTRY INTO THE ATOMIC AGE

CONFLICT MINERALS OF TIBET:

#4 IN A SERIES: URANIUM

This series of blogs highlights the specific minerals extracted from the Tibetan Plateau, despite the protests of Tibetan communities determined to protect their livelihoods, sacred mountains and pilgrimage routes. This series also introduces, to Tibetan readers, the new conflict minerals regulatory regime which effectively bans the entry of conflict minerals into the global commodity supply chain that ends in your hand, in your mobile phone. This is a long blog: you’ll need coffee.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS, SUBMARINES AND MISSILES

Tibet entered the atomic age abruptly, and far earlier than most people realise. The Tibetan Plateau became a front line in the global confrontation between the Soviet and American blocs in the 1950s, when Mao made the strategic decision that revolutionary China must have its own submarines, equipped with Chinese-built nuclear missiles, to gain parity of deterrence, first with the US, then with the Soviet “revisionists” as well.

Tibet was literally designated a front line, officially the Third Front, precisely because of its remoteness and impregnability. The Third Front was deliberately as far from the prowling US Navy as possible, but the testing of submarines, and of submarine-launched missiles must be done in water. China’s biggest lake is Tibet’s biggest lake, the Tso Ngonpo, in Chinese Qinghai Hu.

For decades, secret military research establishments on the lake’s northeast shore, designated the Ninth Academy, built and tested China’s first generation of submarines, which only recently retired from active service. The “Atomic City” they left behind in the 1980s, when the costly Third Front was finally abandoned, is now a major tourism attraction for older Chinese domestic tourists on the patriotic, nostalgic “red tourism” circuit.

army and masses are of one heart 1966

The Ninth Academy was code for the secret Nuclear Weapons Bureau,  based in Amdo/Qinghai, on a scale akin to Los Alamos in the US, according to historians John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai, chroniclers of China’s nuclear weapons program.[1] They emphasize that the location, as with Los Alamos, was chosen for its remoteness to everyone but the local Tibetan pastoralists, to whom it was home. Lewis and Xue had access to the men who ran the weapons program, who were happy to talk of their role in China’s crash program to join the nuclear superpowers. They describe the 1958 initial workforce sent to construct the weaponisation of Tibet. There were “over 2,000 soldiers, more than 7000 peasants conscripted from across the land, and some 2000 seasoned construction workers.” Later came thousands of scientists and technical specialists. Not even Mao’s great famine, in which tens of millions of Chinese citizens died, slowed the construction, as the military slaughtered the native Tibetan chiru gazelles in huge numbers for meat.[2] So great was the urgency, even the scientists worked three shifts, seven days a week.[3]space race 1994

The Nuclear Weapons Bureau was headquartered in Beijing, where the scientists did the calculations essential to ensuring a nuclear explosion. The Ninth Academy was where all these dangerous components were built, assembled and tested, with only the final actual explosion being conducted in an even more remote location just north of Tibet, in the Lop Nur desert. The deep connection between the intellectual core of the atomic bomb project in Beijing, and its factory workshop in Tibet, with personnel going back and forth, was the foundational step in creating the economy of dependence that characterises relations between Tibet and Beijing now.

 

URANIUM

When uranium was discovered in Tibet, conveniently close to the Ninth Academy, in Thewo  (Diebu in Chinese) in Kanlho (Gannan in Chinese), there was a similar intensive allocation of money and manpower, by a command and control state, to extract it.

Gansu, with its rocket launch sites, nuclear fuel cycle enrichment plants and potential, in its deserts, as a nuclear waste dump all made the Thewo uranium deposit, 200 kms south of Lanzhou, integral to China’s crash program of nuclearisation.

The story of the Thewo uranium mine #792 has been documented in remarkable detail, due to the tenacious courage of one man, the mine’s warehouse manager in the 1980s and 1990s, Sun Xiaodi, who not only saw at close quarters the corruption, exploitation of Chinese by Chinese, indifference to worker health and pollution of Tibetan environment, he insisted on reporting it.Sun Xiaodi 792 mine pic b&w

At first he lodged complaints to his superiors, who ignored them. He tried directly petitioning Beijing, only to be abducted, tortured and imprisoned. Amazingly, he never gave up and was able, a decade ago, to tell in precise detail what actually happened at a uranium mine that, on paper, had already closed. China declared the Thewo (Diebu in Chinese) deposit depleted and defunct years ago, and so it was reported by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s databases.

 

It is worth quoting this extraordinary story at length: “A mine employee who protested radioactive contamination learned first-hand the risks of environmental activism in China. Sun Xiaodi disappeared early last year (2005) after petitioning the central authorities over contamination from the No. 792 Uranium Mine in Diebu County, Gansu Province. He was finally released from Lanzhou Prison on December 27, 2005, but his freedom of movement remains greatly restricted under residential surveillance. Sun Xiaodi is not permitted to leave his home without authorization or talk to the press, and when he is allowed out, he is kept under close police surveillance.

“Previously employed as a warehouse manager at Mine No. 792, Sun was simply exercising his rights as a Chinese citizen by petitioning Beijing over corruption among the leaders of his work unit and legal infractions that resulted in serious radioactive contamination in the vicinity of the mine.

“Why should the authorities treat Sun as an enemy of the state? The reason lies in the fact that he worked at a mine engaged in uranium production, and the contamination and corruption he uncovered fit under the rubric of “state secrets,” knowledge of which is denied to ordinary people. The No. 792 Mine where Sun worked is located in Gansu’s Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, one of China’s most important bases for uranium. Originally operated by the State Nuclear Industry Department, the mine opened for production on May 31, 1967 as a large-scale enterprise with installations that included a mine, a hydrometallurgy facility, its own medium-size hydroelectric power plant and a hospital.

“The mine produced 120 to 180 tons of enriched uranium-131 annually; some 90 tons was allocated for military use, but the disposition of the remaining uranium is unknown. The state closed the mine in 2002, allocating 2.7 hundred million yuan in compensation funds for employees. However, each person actually received only 12,000 yuan in relocation expenses; the rest of the money remains unaccounted for. After risking their health in the radioactive environment of the mine, the employees were simply told to move away. Having nowhere to go, more than 800 stayed on in their old homes near the abandoned mine, even after the local government cut off water and electricity and sent police and the fire department to drive them out with high pressure water hoses.

we proudly participate in national industrialisation

“The Gansu No. 792 Uranium Mine was closed “as a matter of policy” on the basis of the “Notice concerning further operational improvements in regard to exhausted resources and obsolete equipment,” issued jointly by the State Defense Committee, the Central Military Committee, the State Council and the General Office of the CPC Central Committee in November 2002.According to former mine employees, No. 792 was still rich in uranium; there were four segments in the mine, and only a third of the uranium in one segment had been extracted. According to mine employees, not only did production continue following the official closure notice, but the pit was extended by another 50 meters. The employees say that mine leaders colluded with officials at the provincial, department, bureau and prefectural levels to falsely report the mine as “exhausted,” then continued secretly extracting uranium from the “abandoned” mine using migrant laborers, selling the enriched uranium illegally at high prices overseas. Mine leaders said production was continuing in order to fulfill previously agreed international contracts, but press reports quote a source in the Nuclear Industry Department as saying that mine management, lured by the rich profits to be made on the international uranium market, planned all along to replace local workers with specialized technical workers and laborers brought in from Lantian County, Shaanxi Province, and to continue working the mine.

“Based on facts brought to light by Sun Xiaodi, Mine No. 792 violated the state “radioactive substances management regulation” by selling off nearly ten million tons of highly radioactive equipment and materials nationwide. According to the provisions of the regulation, contaminated equipment such as that used by Mine No. 792 was not to be resold, but rather should be encased in lead and covered in concrete to a thickness of fifty centimeters. This concrete layer should then be covered with two to three meters of earth and planted with foliage. However, Sun Xiaodi reported that highly radioactive equipment and waste iron products from Mine No. 792 were sold in Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Zhejiang, Hunan and Hubei from 1994 to the end of 2003, with no precaution other than simple rinsing. Used in further production or melted down and refined, this equipment would continue to spread contamination. Cement and reinforced concrete produced with the ball mill and crusher bought from the mine by a cement factory in Inner Mongolia would create radioactive residences. “These officials have blood on their hands,” Sun Xiaodi said.

“Officials suspected of selling off contaminated mine and hydrometallurgy factory equipment and material include the provincial Mining and Metallurgy Bureau section chief, the mine director, the mine deputy director, the mine Party secretary and many middle and lower ranking cadres. Apart from the contamination spread by selling off equipment, Mine No. 792 also created a great deal of contamination during the production process. Sun Xiaodi said that when the mine opened, its uranium refinement process contravened state nuclear production safety regulations by discharging untreated contaminated water directly into the Baishui River, a main tributary of the Yangtze. Slag was also deposited on the banks of the nearby Bailong River, and during the flood season tons of uranium ore washed into the river and flowed on into the Yangtze. Sun also said that trucks hauled ore over a fifty kilometer road between the mine and the hydrometallurgy plant, spreading radioactive dust the entire way.

“Tibetan villagers often hitched rides on the trucks, sitting on top of the ore. The radiation level in shops and banks along the roadways is dozens of times higher than normal. This area was once a place of green fields and clear waters, its woodlands filled with every kind of bird. Now radioactive contamination of the air and water has caused plants and trees to wither; the land is undergoing desertification, and large numbers of oxen and sheep have died. The mine has also caused terrible illnesses to proliferate among the area’s human residents, and more than half of local deaths are attributable to leukemia, liver cancer, skin cancer or some other form of cancer. Up to the present, Mine No. 792 continues to employ migrant laborers who work the mine without adequate safety and prevention measures. Workers eat and sleep at the foot of the mine, and after work, they dive into their meals without showering or even washing their hands. Obsessed with personal profit, the provincial Mining and Metallurgy Bureau and corrupt officials at every level have never given a thought to whether the workers lived or died. They purchase no safety equipment, nor do they allow staff to inform the migrant laborers of the extreme dangers of uranium mining. They evade responsibility by rotating the labor force each year, and if migrant workers developed lung cancer or leukemia somewhere down the line, it is none of their affair. One local mine employee, Mr. Ding, observed, “The laborers have no understanding of health protection or prevention. Those kids sit on the uranium ore to smoke and eat their steamed buns, and at night they even set up their cots inside and sleep in the uranium caves. I’ve told them that stuff could give people lung cancer, but they don’t understand any of it.” The provincial Mining and Metallurgy Bureau and the leaders of Mine No. 792 have retaliated with every kind of tactic against staff who dare to expose the situation to higher authorities.

“Sun Xiaodi began reporting the illegal resale of contaminated equipment, illegal mining and careless disposal of untreated water in 1988. Over the years, he made repeated visits to provincial and central government officials reporting these infractions. But senior officials considered him a nuisance, and Sun’s complaints had no result other than his dismissal in 1994. His wife was assigned to heavy manual labor that ruined her health, and her wages and bonuses were frequently docked without reason. In 1994, mine officials forced her out of her job, leaving her with only a living allowance of 100 yuan per month. Their daughter, Sun Haiyan, suffered discrimination and beatings in school, and the family’s home was vandalized.

“Nevertheless, in April 2005, Sun Xiaodi was back in Beijing petitioning the government. At 6 p.m. on April 28, after giving an interview to an Agence France Presse reporter, he was returning by bicycle to the “Petitioners’Village,” a squatter area near Beijing’s southern train station. Near the overpass at the southern corner of Taoranting Park, Sun was intercepted by two men in civilian clothes who emerged from an unmarked car parked along the roadside; at the same time, several men jumped out of another car, and Sun was bundled inside and taken away. Many people witnessed the incident, and news of Sun’s abduction spread quickly throughout the Petitioners’Village.

“For several months, nothing more was heard of Sun. Police said that Sun was a “wanted criminal” who had committed a “very serious crime related to state secrets.” Police also produced Sun’s cellular phone, wallet, telephone diary and other personal belongings, as well as a document purportedly written by Sun, in which he acknowledged being detained.”

The legacy of hasty extraction remains. Thewo joins the many exhausted uranium mines across China, one of 24 abandoned mines listed in the UDEPO database. When I was researching Spoiling Tibet, uranium mining in Tibet seemingly had come and gone. Where Gansu and Sichuan meet, in the hills of Thewo, uranium was actively mined, leaving a toxic legacy.

 

TIBETAN URANIUM MINING IN 21st CENTURY

Today, uranium extraction from Tibet has shifted, from Thewo to nearby Dzoge, both are Amdo Ngawa to Tibetans, but different provinces for Chinese (Gannan Diebu and Sichuan Ru’ergai in Chinese) for both military use and nuclear power generation. Extraction there seems to have been suspended, as China has built up a huge stockpile of uranium, but the Dzoge deposit (Ru’ergai) is so big there is plenty more uranium available for extraction and processing at the nearby uranium enrichment plant in Lanzhou.

Despite being kept away from the mines, Tibetans know about uranium mining, not only the secretive underground mining, but also rising burden of illness as deadly radon gas is liberated into air and water by uranium extraction.

What has been far less reported is that just south of Gansu Thewo is Sichuan Dzoge (Zoige or Ru’ergai in Chinese), a more substantial uranium deposit, actively mined. The Dzoge outcroppings of uranium occur along an east-west belt about 70 kms long, big enough to excite geologists to offer competing explanations of how it might have formed. But it is not only geologists excited at uranium discoveries in the heart of China’s military industrial complex. China is in the midst of a massive expansion in nuclear power, driven not only by an attempt to lessen reliance on coal, but also because nuclear reactor design and construction is an industry China aims to dominate worldwide. It is this global push to build everyone’s reactors, and supply them with enriched uranium fuel, that fuels the fresh demand for Tibetan uranium.

CONFLICTS OVER URANIUM MINING IN TIBET

In remote Dzoge (mDzod dge) county in northern Sichuan, close to the border with Gansu province, and the new uranium mines of Amdo, Tibetans have long watched the uranium mining, as closely as possible, and in 2011 monks of Kirti monastery compiled a detailed account:

“Mining in rKyang tsha. La nges khog, on present border between mDzod dge county and Gannan, location of the rKyang tsha hot spring (Jiangzha in Chinese), a traditional place of pilgrimage and healing in southern Amdo, and now tourist attraction. In 1960 a large team of surveyors from Sichuan province land survey bureau came and discovered a large deposit of toxic material. From then on, many Chinese workers came and settled there, built many houses, and started mining. Local people guessed that this material was used to make nuclear weapons. There was a group of Tibetans among the miners at that time, who seemed to be prisoners from Khams. As they were prisoners, they were not fed, and used to come around the local sDe ba looking for the corpses of pigs and dogs. Elders say that they could not understand their language but heard them reciting Mani.

“Since the start of the mining, people were no longer allowed to visit the hot spring, and there are heavy restrictions against taking photos of the area. The number of workers sent from China grew steadily since then, and the adjoining rGyal dge thang and Ma thang fields became covered with a new Chinese town. The various sections of that worksite were given code numbers, not named after the kind of work they do, which shows the secret nature of the operation. Geology Work Units 792 and 510 were mining and processing the toxic material. 405, 407, 410 and others mined other precious metals like gold and copper. The former two units were under direct control of the central government and had better equipment. They had a permanent work force of about 3000 and lived in 2 -3 storey buildings. The others were under Sichuan province government. The town there had shops and restaurants, a hospital and school and many vehicles, and good buses to transport the workers. The other units did not have these.

“Unit 792 also had a large base in The bo (Thewo) county town, under Gannan pref., 45 km away. They had even better facilities, like school and hospital. They say this unit was for processing the toxic stuff, after the unit in rKyang tsha mined it. Others say the mining unit in rKyang tsha was 510, and the real unit 792 was in The bo. Anyway the 792 unit’s base in rKyang tsha, the mining site, was about 4 km above rGyal dge thang, beyond the hot spring. The other units mining gold were also working here and there in that valley. There was a mountain that they dug inside, making a big cavern, and many buildings were made inside. From there they extracted the toxic material, which was a black substance resembling coal. It was brought out on a rail track that went about 1500 metres into the mountain in a tunnel. The material was transported in rail cars powered by electricity, and they kept moving day and night. They filled about 10-20 trucks daily that transported the black material down to the processing facility at ’Ja’ ’ba’ lung (also in a hollowed out mountain cavern) near The bo county, every day without interruption. When the trucks approached the entrance, they changed drivers to enter the facility. Outside drivers were not allowed to enter the mountain cavern. The 792 miners worked 6 hour shifts and were transported back and forth from the town where they lived to the mining site in 9 buses running 24 hours a day.

“Mining there has seriously affected the local environment, vegetation and flowering plants have declined and the sheep kept by local villagers die from grazing or drinking the water near the mine. More seriously there are continuing occurrences of birth defects, and the young people suffer from neurological disorders and stroke. Because of this, local people made many petitions to the county and provincial governments, but far from giving compensation, they even denied that there are any harmful effects from mining. Then around 1989 the Dran pa sprul sku of rKyang tsha, a graduate of the Buddhist studies institute in Beijing presented a petition to the central government about the harmful effects of the mine on local people and environment. The central government responded by planting trees and grass there to test the effect on the environment, but nothing would grow, and all the vegetation alongside the road to the mine is withered and dry, so the effects are clear to see even without testing, so they had the transport trucks covered over. After that, locals again lost over 300 cattle suddenly (due to poisoning from the mine), and then unit 792 paid compensation of Y80 per horse, Y60 per cow and Y13 per sheep.

“Unable to put up with the situation, locals staged a protest in 1994, blocking the road to the mine for a week. Their protest was characterised as a revolt against central government, and central government sent orders to Sichuan province to arrest anyone engaging in economic sabotage and protest. A large troop of soldiers was sent to the area from Ngaba prefecture (Barkham), but petitions made to county and prefecture governments were accepted as valid, and the troops were withdrawn, but nothing more was done. Mining was finally stopped there in 1995, and the machinery returned to China. They filled two trucks with processing residues and corpses of mice and birds used in testing, and buried it all on a nearby hillside. In 2001 when local pastoralists moved into the valley of the former mine, 200 cattle died from poisoned water and grass. This was confirmed by autopsy at the local hospital. The government paid RMB300 per sheep in compensation. In around 2002 local people were paid petty wages to revive the natural environment there by planting trees, but without success.”[4]

This highly specific account matches Chinese geological science publications on the Dzoge uranium deposit, and Chinese scientific reports on the Kyangtsa/Jiangzha hot springs. The bottom-up observations of the Dzoge Tibetans can now be matched with the top-down scientific journals of Chinese geologists and radiation protect specialists.

They tell us that the Dzoge uranium deposit often comes with other commercially valuable metals, molybdenum, zinc, gold and nickel, making extraction more profitable.[5] This team of Sichuan scientists report that: “Since discovery in 1960s, these deposits in the Zoige area have been of great interest to many earth scientists and ore deposit experts for its scale, high grade and abundant associated ores. Within this uranium deposit, there is the enrichment of Mo, Ni, Zn, Au, which are concentrated up to the industrial indexes of comprehensive utilization (Mao and Min, 1989; Hao et al., 2013; Li et al., 2012). Mo, V, P, S, Co, Ni, Zi, etc., and Ni, Zn occur in the standards of economically exploitable concentrations.” Vanadium and cobalt occur in these deposits in small but commercially valuable concentrations.

The key mineral is uranium, in unusually rich concentrations: “U concentration ranges from 50 to 350 ppm, with several concentrations over 2400 ppm.” That is why mining has gone on for decades, and the biggest mine, as noted by the Kirti monks above, is #510, under direct central government control.[6]

 

ARE TIBETAN HEALING HOT SPRINGS NOW RADIOACTIVE?

The famous hot springs of Kyangtsa (Jiangzha in Chinese) are nearby and, according to Chinese radiation scientists, highly radioactive. Were they long so, or only after nearby uranium mining brought to the surface the radium and its deadly gas, radon? That is the crucial question, but far too sensitive for Chinese scientists to ask. An early report on the hot springs came in 2002 when Chinese scientists reported their findings to a conference in Korea, the first Asian and Oceanic Congress for Radiation Protection.[7] They hastened to assure their audience that the high levels of radium at the six hot springs was natural, and “It is unrelated to uranium mining and milling facility.”

A more recent scientific investigation, in 2010, reported more open findings: “The uranium mining and spring water polluted the surrounding environment. It is necessary to strengthen the management of abnormal high radon springs and uranium mining, and take related protection and pollution control measures.”[8]

So it seems the Tibetans of Dzoge and the Kyangtsa hot springs have reason to fear the uranium extraction from their ancestral lands, and the many Chinese extraction companies working the mines.

Conflicts arising when Tibetan communities try to protect their lands from extraction have been common. Their attempts to protect their land, and hot springs, were crushed by force, quickly labelled as separatists and therefore a threat to the security of the nation-state. The 1994 protests and the ongoing environmental damage, even in areas where mining has ceased, are stories repeated all over Tibet, many times. It is all too easy for local officials to invoke national security as justification for repression. Security fundamentalism is a shortcut to profit for many local governments across Tibet. Tibet is a zone of conflict minerals.

 

CHINA’S AMBITIOUS PLANS TO SELL ENRICHED URANIUM WORLDWIDE

At first glance, China would seem to have little need for Tibetan uranium. China’s nuclear weapons stockpile is not growing. Its nuclear power plans are growing, but China, despite the closing of so many depleted mines, has plenty more uranium deposits, plus ready access to a global market, including neighbouring sources such as Kazakhstan. Nuclear industry publications report in 2015 that China has built a stockpile of uranium well in excess of what it will need, even if all those reactors go ahead. Why? The answer seems to be in China’s determination to dominate nuclear power globally, as it already does with solar power.

China wants to be a one-stop shop for all aspects of nuclear power, supplying the design, the construction workforce, the reactor, the fuel and even the financing if that swings the deal. China’s party-state is orchestrating this push to become the global leader, priding itself on knowing what to do, having attained dominance in solar power.

There are several facets to China’s strategy, starting with the order from above requiring China’s two giant state-owned nuclear power corporations to work together, not in competition with each other. China’s capacity to finance power station construction, and reap the profits only years later, is a major strength. China now, at official command, has a single design on offer, the Hualong One, whichever Chinese nuclear corporation gets the contract. In recent months Argentina and Kenya have signed on for a Hualong One reactor, but China is angling for a bigger prize, that would establish the Hualong One as the go-to for any country, rich or poor. Right now the prize is the UK, and the prospect of getting to erect a Hualong One in Bradwell, Essex.

Xi Jinping’s October 2015 visit to the UK highlit this deal. Britain’s Sunday Times reports: “Whitehall officials are hammering out the final details of an agreement under which two of Beijing’s state power companies, China General Nuclear and China National Nuclear Corporation, will take a large minority stake in Hinkley Point. They would also be junior partners, and cover part of the costs, for a follow-on plant at Sizewell. EDF would lead the construction and operation of both sites. In return for Beijing’s support on those plants, EDF would sell its rights to a development site it owns at Bradwell. The French would become a minority partner and assist the Chinese through Britain’s approval process for a new reactor design, a process that is among the most arduous in the world. Beijing would then use that certification as a selling point as it bids to become the world leader in nuclear technology.”

These complex corporate manoeuvres may give China entry to the British power market, because austerity Britain cannot pay in advance to build and own nuclear power plants, and the French company, EDF, is deeply in debt already because of huge cost overruns on building nuclear power in France. Enter the Chinese, with long term commercial finance backed by the Chinese government, as China’s leverage to get to build their own Hualong One in Essex, and put the Hualong One, powered by Tibetan uranium, on the global map.

Will the nuclear power reactors China hopes to build in the UK be powered by uranium enriched in China and mined in Tibet? This is one of many unanswered questions about this ambitious project to put Chinese reactors on the global market. Many other questions arise. Since the French owners of the next two UK reactors are unwilling or unable to finance construction by themselves, thus bringing on board Chinese finance and a Chinese 40% ownership of two reactors and the right to build a third, totally Chinese reactor, why does the UK feel it needs to sweeten the deal with China by offering a Treasury guarantee covering the Chinese investment? Why doesn’t the UK, which pioneered nuclear power, just finance and build these reactors itself? If it takes a Treasury guarantee of two billion pounds to get China on board to finance these expensive power sources, is it all worthwhile?

 

URANIUM OF TIBET’S FAR WEST

One of the attractions of Tibetan uranium in Thewo and Dzoge for China’s military and nuclear power industries is that these deposits are so close to the main uranium enrichment facilities near Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, a major centre of China’s nuclearisation since the 1960s.

But there are other uranium deposits in Tibet, as far away as the lakes of upper Tibet in the far west of the plateau. One briny lake has long attracted attention, Chabyer Tsaka  (Zhabuye in Chinese), initially for its rich concentrations of boron,[9] more recently for the lithium salts mingled with other salts, more recently still for the discovery of uranium among the extractables, so valuable that the vast distance to any industrial market may not be an obstacle.[10] Many of the dry saltpan or shallow salt lakes of upper Tibet have high concentrations of uranium in the water, but climate change and glacier melt are now, for the first time in centuries, raising water levels in these lakes, making extraction harder.

Chinese geologists have now found uranium and radium in many places along the Yarlung Tsangpo river valley that stretches right across southern Tibet, from west to east, with frequent readings of high levels of natural radioactivity, especially in granite and acidic volcanic rock. These findings are reported (in Chinese) in China’s Uranium Geology journal.[11]

 

[1] John Wilson Lewis, Xue Litai, China Builds the Bomb, 1998, Stanford University Press, 1991, 140-1

[2] Lewis and Xue, 143

[3] Lewis and Xue, 151

[4] Kirti Monastery, Wounds of Three Generations, 2010, (in Tibetan). English translation:  http://historicaldocs.blogspot.in/

[5] SONG Hao, ZHANG Chengjiang, NI Shijun, XU Zhengqi and HUANG Changhua; New Evidence for Genesis of the Zoige Carbonate-Siliceous-Pelitic Rock Type Uranium Deposit in Southern Qinling: Discovery and Significance of the 64 Ma Intrusions; ACTA GEOLOGICA SINICA (English Edition) Vol. 88 No. 6, 1757–1769,  Dec. 2014

[6] Zhang, C.J., and Chen, Y.L., 2010. The discovery and its geological implications of the vertical zoning of 510-1 uranium deposit. Geology and Exploration, 46(3): 434–441 (in Chinese with English abstract).

[7] Zhuli; Jianping, Cheng; Junli, Li; Guilin, Liu; New survey of Jiangzha hot spring in Si Chuan province in China, Proceedings of the first Asian and Oceanic Congress for Radiation Protection(AOCRP-1)

[8] FU Xiao-hua, WEN Xiang-min, HE Liang-guo, Radio active Level of Abnormal High Radon Spring in Jiangzha; 职业卫生与病伤 2010年 4月第 25卷第 2期 Journal of Occupational Health and Damage, Apr.2010.Vol.25, No.

[9] The Discovery History of Mineral Deposits of China – Tibet Autonomous Region( volume 25), Geology Publishing House, Beijing, 1996, 45-7

[10] Huang Dayou et al.,  Preliminary Study of the Uranium Source of Zabuye Salt Lake, Tibet;  Uranium Geology 铀矿地质 Vol 31, May 2015

[11] Qi Ling (China National Nuclear Corporation) Determination of 238U, 226 Ra and the Calculation of Equilibrium Coefficient in Rock of Gangdise tectonic belt, Tibet, Uranium Geology 铀矿地质, vol 31 #4, July 2015atomic city 2015

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