As world leaders converge on Washington this week for the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit, the International Campaign for Tibet calls on President Obama to raise the situation in Tibet both in the bilateral meeting with Xi Jinping and at the Summit. This is an opportunity to reiterate concerns about the deteriorating situation in Tibet and to highlight the uncertainties over Tibet’s nuclear security due to China’s policies.

President Obama will meet with Xi Jinping tomorrow at a time when relations between the two countries are tense because of China’s military expansion in the South China Sea and other issues.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “As the Obama administration has emphasized, human rights are not simply a moral imperative but an essential component of global security and stability. That concern for human rights and for the people of Tibet has been emphasized in several recent and unprecedented statements by the U.S. government, the E.U., and other countries. It is a critical moment to send China’s leadership a strong signal on the importance of human rights across the PRC and a peaceful resolution to the Tibet issue. It has never been more important for him to raise this concern directly with President Xi.”

For example, a new generation of Tibetans is paying a high price with their lives for peaceful expression of views in a political climate in which almost any expression of Tibetan identity or culture can be termed ‘criminal.’ This includes courageous individuals like Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan entrepreneur who advocated for bilingual education in schools, and the blogger Shokjang, who have both been imprisoned.

“We are calling upon the US government to raise the cases of Tashi Wangchuk and Shokjang and to express its concern over China’s oppressive and counter-productive policies in Tibet,” Matteo Mecacci added.

President Obama has spoken directly to Xi about Tibet before; at a joint press conference of the two leaders at the White House on September 25, 2015, President Obama said: “Even as we recognize Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China, we continue to encourage Chinese authorities to preserve the religious and cultural identity of the Tibetan people, and to engage the Dalai Lama or his representatives.”

Uncertainties remain over Tibet’s nuclear security

It is a little known fact that the exploitation of Tibet’s land, mineral and natural resources by the PRC began when the Tibetan plateau became China’s nuclear testing ground and the provider of fuel for its nuclear arsenal in the 1950s.

The so-called ‘Ninth Academy’ was code for the secret Nuclear Weapons Bureau, based in the Tibetan area of Amdo, today’s Qinghai province, on a scale akin to Los Alamos in the US. While scientists in Beijing did the calculations on nuclear explosions at the Nuclear Weapons Bureau, the Ninth Academy was where all these dangerous components were built, assembled and tested, with the final explosion being conducted in an even more remote location just north of Tibet, in the Lop Nur desert. Gabriel Lafitte, author of ‘Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World’, writes: “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.”[1]

Today, the ‘Atomic City’ they left behind in the 1980s, is now a major attraction on the patriotic ‘red tourism’ circuit. But the issue of nuclear security is very much a live concern. Uranium mining, critical to the nuclear industry, is largely carried out in secret and the build-up of extremely hazardous waste is known but little-documented.

A uranium deposit in Thewo in Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan), Gansu (the Tibetan area of Amdo) proved critical to China’s program of nuclearization. Although the Thewo mine is no longer in use, China’s nuclear factories remain in Lanzhou, including a uranium enrichment centrifuge.[2] According to research by Gabriel Lafitte, despite fears of the toxicity of accumulated spent-fuel collecting at Lanzhou, a full-scale spent-fuel reprocessing plant is not due to be constructed until 2020.[3]

The nuclear fuel industry in Lanzhou uses large amounts of hydroelectricity generated on the Tibetan plateau by large-scale hydro dams. As the source of most of Asia’s major rivers, including the Yangtze, the Mekong and the Brahmaputra, Tibet’s fragile ecology is of critical importance to hundreds of millions of people in the water-dependent societies downstream. Almost unnoticed by the rest of the world, multiple dams are being built on all the major rivers running off the Tibetan plateau by powerful state-owned Chinese consortiums.[4]

In addition, China maintains a number of its estimated 128 to 168 land-based nuclear missiles on or near the Qinghai-Tibet railway.[5] Several DF-4 missiles are positioned in the Tsaidam area of Qinghai, and along the eastern segment of the rail corridor (from Golmud to Lhasa), missile launch brigades have been established in Datong, Wulan and Xining.[6]

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “Given the critical role of Tibet in China’s nuclear industry, concern must be raised about its impact on the plateau, including the hazardous wastes in Tibet and impact of uranium mining, which are covered up by the authorities. The meetings this week focusing on nuclear security should provoke serious questions to the Chinese leadership about China’s land use policies in Tibet, the Roof of the World, particularly given its global environmental significance.”

[1] Published by Zed Books, 2013. Also see Gabriel Lafitte’s blog at

[2] Documented by Mark Hibbs in the journal ‘Nuclear Fuel’, vol 24, no 10, May 17, 1999, as cited in Gabriel Lafitte ‘Spoiling Tibet’

[3], cited by Gabriel Lafitte in ‘Spoiling Tibet’

[4] ICT report, ‘Blue Gold from the Highest Plateau: Tibet’s water and global climate change’,

[5] According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, ‘The Military Balance: 2002-3’ (London, Oxford University Press, 2002). Higher estimates have been published by the Monterey Institute Center for Nonproliferation Studies. See ICT report, ‘Crossing the Line: China’s railway to Tibet’, September, 2003,

[6] According to a report by Robert S Norris and William M Arkin in ‘Nuclear Notebook’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 55, No 4, May/June 1999; see note 155 in ICT report ‘Crossing the Line’,