- - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

SUBMARINE NUCLEAR LEAK

A leak of radioactive material was detected at a submarine base near the Chinese port city of Dalian in northern China, the U.S.-based Chinese website Boxun reported over the weekend.

The accident reportedly occurred Friday, according to Boxun, when one of the two Jin-class ballistic missile submarines at the Xiaopingdao naval base near Dalian was being outfitted with electronic equipment.

The news portal reported that the information came from adirect and exclusive source” familiar with the mishap. Questioned by Inside China, a Boxun editor stated that the source for the report was from inside the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) who was “reliable.” Pentagon spokesmen have not commented on the reported accident.

However, analysts cautioned that reports from such Chinese sources without confirmation must be viewed with caution. Richard Fisher, a Washington-based PLA analyst, suggested that the report could be a pre-emptive cover-up for a larger failure of some other part of the Jin submarine.

Security surrounding the area of the reported accident was tightened, and Chinese authorities imposed a blackout of all related information.

Mr. Fisher said, “A radiation leakage incident serious enough to warrant security cordon would indicate a significant issue with the nuclear reactor.Such an incident would be embarrassing for the PLA as it occurred near the Dalian Naval Academy, a key center for submarine development and crew training.”

The site of the reported accident, near the Korean Peninsula, is in the most nuclear-sensitive region of the world. Japan suffered a devastating nuclear meltdown after a tsunami in March, and North Korea has frequently threatened to unleash a nuclear armageddon.

The Boxun story spread quickly to South Korea and Japan. The Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported it with the headline “Rumors Circulate about Radiation Leak by Chinese Sub.”

On Saturday, Mamoru Sato, a Japanese military blogger, said his source told him that the radioactive leak was “very dangerous” and warned that “the neighboring countries should take defensive actions, and the Japanese fishing boats in the area should be careful.”

After the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan stepped up its awareness of nuclear safety, with the scary realization that almost all of Japan is downwind from China, which is planning to build up to 100 nuclear plants.

QUIET PLA BIRTHDAY

Monday marked a major holiday in China. The “August 1 Founding the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Day” holiday usually is celebrated with a typical communist extravaganza.

Politburo members usually talk about “[political] consciousness-raising” discussions, military leaders reaffirm absolute loyalty to the party and the army holds parades and demonstrations of weapons.

On this 84th birthday of the PLA, however, the celebration was relatively and surprisingly quiet without major speeches, parades or any of the other usual hyped fanfare.

The top story of the day was the Chinese defense department’s announcement of a revamped website, with scant reports of celebratory events. One exception was a report on a party held by the small PLA group in Macau.

The low-key anniversary was in sharp contrast to high-pitched triumphalism and eagerness to show off PLA military might that the world came to expect in recent years. Some analysts say this may be a sign that the civilian leadership is uneasy with the timing of the military’s display of imprudence, which has caused the world, especially neighboring countries, to worry about China’s unbridled rise of military power.

For example, after many months of unofficial hype about the PLA’s aircraft carrier program, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman suddenly announced last week that China’s first carrier, a refurbished Russian ship, would be used only for “research and training.”

The comment was greeted with skepticism because China initially claimed that it would be converting the aircraft carrier into a floating casino.

As tensions escalate in the South China Sea, China in recent days has cooled its rhetoric against countries that are challenging its expansive maritime sovereignty claims in the region.

Protesters in Hong Kong marked the holiday with their first rally against communism in front of the PLA headquarters. Such protests traditionally are reserved for other People's Republic of China official buildings in the former British crown colony.

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached a mmilesyu@gmail.com.