Western experts looking for signs of damage in Chinese N-sites in earthquake

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New York, May 16 : China's main centres for designing, making and storing nuclear arms lie in the shattered earthquake zone, and leading Western experts are looking for signs of any damage that might allow radioactivity to escape.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior US official said that the US was using spy satellites and other means to try to monitor the sprawling nuclear plants.

"There appear to be no immediate concerns," The New York Times quoted the official, as saying.

Hans M. Kristensen, a nuclear arms expert at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington, said nonetheless, it's potentially a serious issue.

"Radioactive materials could be released if there's damage," he said.

China began building the plants in the 1960s, calculating that their remote locations would make them less vulnerable to enemy attack.

China's main complex for making nuclear warhead fuel, codenamed Plant 821, is beside a river in a hilly, forested part of the earthquake zone. It is some 15 miles northwest of Guangyuan in Sichuan Province.

The vast site holds China's largest production reactor and factories that mine its spent fuel for plutonium -- the main ingredient for modern nuclear arms.

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