596 (nuclear test)
596 is the codename of the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

's first nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s test
Nuclear testing
Nuclear weapons tests are experiments carried out to determine the effectiveness, yield and explosive capability of nuclear weapons. Throughout the twentieth century, most nations that have developed nuclear weapons have tested them...

, detonated on October 16, 1964 at the Lop Nur
Lop Nur
Lop Lake or Lop Nur is a group of small, now seasonal salt lake sand marshes between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts in the Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, southeastern portion of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China.The lake system into which the Tarim...

 test site. It was a uranium-235
- References :* .* DOE Fundamentals handbook: Nuclear Physics and Reactor theory , .* A piece of U-235 the size of a grain of rice can produce energy equal to that contained in three tons of coal or fourteen barrels of oil. -External links:* * * one of the earliest articles on U-235 for the...

 implosion fission device
Nuclear weapon design
Nuclear weapon designs are physical, chemical, and engineering arrangements that cause the physics package of a nuclear weapon to detonate. There are three basic design types...

 and had a yield of 22 kilotons. With the test, China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 became the fifth nuclear power.

Project 596 was named after the month of June 1959 in which it was initiated, immediately after Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War. He served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, from 1958 to 1964...

 decided to stop helping the Chinese with their nuclear program 20 June 1959.


The People's Republic of China began developing nuclear weapons in the late 1950s with substantial Soviet assistance. The order for the Chinese nuclear weapons program, designated by the codename of "02", was given by Chairman Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 himself, who believed that without a nuclear weapon China would not be taken seriously as a world power. The events of the First Taiwan Strait Crisis
First Taiwan Strait Crisis
The First Taiwan Strait Crisis was a short armed conflict that took place between the governments of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China . The PRC seized the Yijiangshan Islands, forcing the ROC to abandon the Tachen Islands...

 of 1954-55 cemented Mao's belief that unless China had nuclear weapons of its own, it would constantly be under the threat of nuclear blackmail
Nuclear blackmail
Nuclear blackmail is a form of nuclear strategy in which an aggressor uses the threat of use of nuclear weapons to force an adversary to perform some action or make some concessions. It is a type of extortion, related to brinkmanship.-Effectiveness:...

 from the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...


Prior to 1960, direct Soviet military assistance had included the provision of advisors and a vast variety of equipment. Of the assistance provided, most significant to China's future strategic nuclear capability were an experimental nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

, facilities for processing uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

, a cyclotron
In technology, a cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator. In physics, the cyclotron frequency or gyrofrequency is the frequency of a charged particle moving perpendicularly to the direction of a uniform magnetic field, i.e. a magnetic field of constant magnitude and direction...

, and some equipment for a gaseous diffusions plant. At one point the Soviet Union even agreed to supply a prototype nuclear weapon for analysis by the Chinese; this agreement was not, however, put into effect.

When Sino-Soviet relations cooled
Sino-Soviet split
In political science, the term Sino–Soviet split denotes the worsening of political and ideologic relations between the People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the Cold War...

 in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviet Union withheld plans and data for an atomic bomb, abrogated the agreement on transferring defense technology and, starting in 1960, began the withdrawal of Soviet advisors. Despite the termination of Soviet assistance, China committed itself to continue nuclear weapons development to break "the superpowers' monopoly on nuclear weapons", to ensure Chinese security against the Soviet and United States threats, and to increase Chinese prestige and power internationally, especially with France recently emerging as a new nuclear force in February 1960 (Gerboise Bleue
Gerboise Bleue
Gerboise Bleue was the name of the first French nuclear test. It was an atomic bomb detonated in the middle of the Algerian Sahara desert on 13 February 1960, during the Algerian War...


The first Chinese atomic bomb, code-named 596, was detonated on October 16, 1964 at the Lop Nor nuclear test site. It was an implosion-style
Nuclear weapon design
Nuclear weapon designs are physical, chemical, and engineering arrangements that cause the physics package of a nuclear weapon to detonate. There are three basic design types...

 nuclear weapon, though it utilized uranium-235 exclusively for its core — most countries which pursue implosion technology use plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 for their first cores, because it is usually easier to produce than uranium-235 — as at the time it had not developed plutonium-production technology. The test had a yield
Nuclear weapon yield
The explosive yield of a nuclear weapon is the amount of energy discharged when a nuclear weapon is detonated, expressed usually in the equivalent mass of trinitrotoluene , either in kilotons or megatons , but sometimes also in terajoules...

 of 22 kilotons. China would manage to develop a fission bomb capable of being put onto a nuclear missile only two years after its first detonation, and would detonate its first hydrogen bomb only three years later in 1967.

The United States intelligence agencies were caught off-guard by the Chinese test in 1964. Despite having photographed pre-test preparation at the Lop Nur nuclear testing site, many U.S. analysts believed that the Chinese were still months, if not years, away from having a functional nuclear weapon, in part because they erroneously assumed that the first Chinese bomb would be plutonium-fueled and that their Lanzhou
Lanzhou is the capital and largest city of Gansu Province in Northwest China. A prefecture-level city, it is a key regional transportation hub, allowing areas further west to maintain railroad connections to the eastern half of the country....

 diffusion enrichment facility was not yet operable (even though it had actually produced enough highly-enriched uranium for a number of bombs by that time). The U.S. analysts additionally misidentified a facility designed to produce uranium tetrafluoride
Uranium tetrafluoride
Uranium tetrafluoride is a green crystalline solid compound of uranium with an insignificant vapor pressure and very slight solubility in water. Uranium in its tetravalent state is very important in different technological processes...

 as a plutonium production facility, making their estimates of Chinese plutonium production significantly off. It was only after radiochemical analysis of the fallout cloud from the Chinese test conclusively demonstrated that the bomb had been a U-235 implosion device, that these errors were re-examined in detail.


  • Time: 07:00 GMT 16 October 1964
  • Location: Lop Nur Test Ground, 40.8152 North, 89.7925 East
  • Test Height and Type: Tower, 102 meters
  • Yield: 22 kilotons

External links

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