The latest satellite images revealed that China has dug a sixth tunnel in Xinjiang to expand its nuclear test facilities.

Nikkei Asia reported on August 1 that some experts analyzed the photos and confirmed that China is strengthening its nuclear testing capability in the autonomous region. Experts from a U.S. think tank said that China’s expansion of its nuclear arsenal is likely to be part of its strategy to invade Taiwan.

Planet Labs PBC, a California-based earth imaging company, took a series of photos near Lop Nur, a dried up salt lake in China’s southeastern region of Xinjiang.

The photos showed that extensive coverings have been erected on a mountainside of Xinjiang’s desert region. There were also broken rocks piled up nearby.

Experts believed that these are evidence of a new tunnel for nuclear weapon testing under construction hidden beneath.

According to the report, China has recently installed electric cables and facilities that could be used to store high explosives, and built unpaved white roads led from a command post to various directions.

An expert from AllSource Analysis, a private U.S. geospatial company, said that China now could conduct nuclear tests any time after it has connected the electricity line and road system to the military nuclear testing facilities in Lop Nur.

Analysts believe that the secret nuclear testing area is secured by the Chinese army.

China is resuming the construction of a new testing facility after it halted explosive tests in Xinjiang a quarter of a century ago. 

Earlier, China had conducted five underground nuclear tests in the Lop Nur area, with the last seen in 1996, which was also its 45th nuclear test.

With the construction of the sixth tunnel, China’s nuclear weapons program may be resumed.

The Nikkei also found on an official Chinese procurement website that, in April this year, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a paramilitary organization under the Communist Party, invited bids for 10 radiation dose alarms, 12 protective suits, and one detector of wound site taints.

This was part of a project for emergency monitoring of nuclear and radiation accidents. But Xinjiang does not have a nuclear power plant, and the XPCC said that it will make 2022 the starting year to strengthen capability of radioactivity monitoring.

Satellite images showed new terrain leveling activity at Lop Nur in October 2020. Big trucks came and went in 2021. The electricity infrastructure to serve the sixth tunnel was built in the first half of 2022. In June, the explosive storage facility was completed.

According to Taiwan-based news outlet NewTalk, the U.S. State Department reported in April 2020 that China was operating at the Lop Nur and other nuclear testing sites in 2019. The U.S. side expressed concerns about whether Beijing would abide by international treaties banning nuclear explosive tests.

Charles Richard is the commander of U.S. Strategic Command. He told the U.S. Congress in April that China’s nuclear and hypersonic weapons are expanding at an alarming rate. He also said that China has the potential to use nuclear coercion to benefit them in the future, and the intention is to achieve military capability to unify Taiwan by 2027.

Lyle Goldstein, a former professor at the U.S. Naval War College, also said that China’s expansion of its nuclear arsenal is likely to be part of its strategy to invade Taiwan.

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