China and leading Western experts are on the alert against possible radiation leaks from the Sichuan earthquake as the main centers for designing, making and storing nuclear arms lie in the shattered earthquake zone.
Chinese Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian (周生賢) convened an emergency meeting late on Monday, hours after the 7.9 magnitude tremor rocked the province, and activated the lowest tier of a four-stage system of ranking radiation leaks, the ministry said on its Web site.
Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), meanwhile, flew to Mianyang yesterday, state television and the Xinhua news agency reported, in an indication the risk was low.
But nuclear scientists were evacuated from the area as a precaution, a source with knowledge of the evacuation said.
The Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics, also known as the Southwest Institute, in Mianyang is the primary design laboratory for Chinese nuclear weapons, according to www.globalsecurity.org.
A Western expert with knowledge of the Mianyang lab had said it was unlikely it was at serious risk.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said this week he had not heard of damage to nuclear facilities in the disaster area when asked at a regular news briefing.
The China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corp said six employees on construction sites were killed in the quake.
It said on its Web site that several facilities in Sichuan were damaged, but did not mention any radiation leaks.