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Thu, Oct 14, 1999 - Page 3 News List

How the US stopped Taiwan's bomb

ARMS RACE Details of Taiwan's bid to join the nuclear community have always been shrouded in secrecy. Previously classified US documents shows just how close Taiwan came to developing the technology to produce thermonuclear weapons

By William Ide By William Ide  /  STAFF REPORTER

The pilot reprocessing facility at the Institute for Nuclear Energy Research. Capable of servicing about 50 tonnes of Uranium annually, the plant could yeild just a few grams of plutonium per year.

SOURCE: THE ATOMIC ENERGY COUNCIL

Declassification and release of archive documents from the United States today, shows that Taiwan attempted to build nuclear weapons, despite government denials and US government opposition.

These formerly confidential files detail how the US State Department used its diplomatic influence and intelligence sources to promote non-proliferation and halt Taiwan's secretive nuclear weapons program.

But what the US government failed to do, the evidence suggests, was stop Taiwan from giving up entirely its ambition and ability to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The story begins in 1964, after China conducted its first nuclear test. Shortly afterward, Taiwan launched its own nuclear weapons program, dubbed the "Hsinchu Project."

There is contention over who was the principal figure behind the programme. Wu Ta-you (吳?j猷) -- a former Academia Sinica president and, at the time, a member of Taiwan's National Security Council -- said it was the son of the then President Chiang Kai-shek (蔣?階?/CHINESE>). who was responsible. Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), who was then director of the Science Development Advisory Committee, conducted the nuclear programme behind his father's back, Wu said.

This view was contradicted by National Taiwan University professor of history, Hsu Cho-yun, in a 1966 interview at the US Embassy in Taipei, who said Chiang Kai-shek was the motivating force.

"At the direction of President Chiang, the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, which superintends science research and development for the Ministry of National Defense, is continuing to push ahead with its program of developing an atomic weapon."

The quest for friends

Timeline

1964

China conducts its first

nuclear test

1966

Local sources let US know

that Taiwan is pursuing a

nuclear weapons program

1967

Taiwan plans to purchase a

nuclear reprocessing

plant

from

Siemens in West Germany. The

US tries to block the sale then

backs down but retains

suspicions that Taiwan has

ulterior motives

1969

Taiwan begins work on a

reprocessing plant

1971

ROC is pushed out of the

United Nations by the People's

Republic of China

1972

The US State Department

learns that Taiwan intends to

purchase equipment for a

reprocessing plant from West

Germany

1973

After pressure from the US,

Taiwan's foreign minister says

the reprocessing plant will

not be built

1976

Reprocessing plant is

believed to be finished.

Premier Chiang Ching-kuo says

Taiwan will not engage in any

activities related to reprocessing

1979

US switches diplomatic

ties to China

1988

Deputy Director of nuclear

research, Chang Hsien-yi, flees

Taiwan handing over reams of

information to US officials

Taiwan puts to rest its ambitions

to build nuclear weapons

Taiwan puts to rest its ambitions to build nuclear weapons


Hsu said that Taiwan had difficulty finding nuclear materials for its research and its plans were often blocked.

Initially Taiwan asked the US and Israel for assistance, but the US flatly refused and Israel had its own security problems. Japan was approached but "reacted negatively, as it does to any effort to involve it in the development of nuclear weapons," an embassy document reported.

When Taiwan tried to buy a 50 megawatt heavy water nuclear power plant from the Federal Republic of Germany-based power company Siemens in 1967, the US issued a caution.

Nevertheless, that same year, the US' General Electric Corporation began construction of Taiwan's first nuclear power plant in the northeast part of the island.

Victor Cheng (鄭振華), Secretary General of the Garrison Regiment Command (GRC) Atomic Energy Council, was quoted in a US Embassy, Feb.1967 memorandum of conversation, as saying he "saw no relationship between the proposed purchase of the reactor and nuclear weapons research."

The US government later consented to support the sale of the German reactor, so that it would not appear to be contradicting itself and the reputation of the International Atomic Energy Agency to uphold safety standards.

"In view of unequivocal US statements of confidence in IAEA safeguard systems and US assurance to FRG [Federal Republic of Germany] that IAEA safeguards would not hinder German sales of nuclear equipment for peaceful purposes, the Department does not consider we should attempt to forestall sale through approach to either Siemens or FRG."

However, the telegram to the US embassy in Bonn added: "The Department (of state) intends to furnish FRG through other channels USG [US government] information on GRC purchase of Siemens reactor ... we are not yet convinced that purpose motivating GRC desire to buy Siemens reactor is unrelated to interest in nuclear weapons."

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