Yu, 89, an academic with the Chinese Academy of Sciences who has been
involved in research into nuclear weapons since the 1960s, was
presented with the National Highest Science and Technology Award by
President Xi Jinping at a ceremony yesterday, mainland media reported.
The award comes with a 5 million yuan (HK$6.3 million) cash prize.
Yu was a leading scientist in designing the country’s hydrogen bomb,
winning a medal for his contribution to “two bombs, one satellite” –
China’s self-reliant national defence programme – in 1999.
China detonated its first hydrogen bomb in 1967, a little more than
two-and-a-half years after the country’s first atomic bomb test – much
less time than the seven years and three months the United States took
to develop a hydrogen bomb after its first atomic test.
Nuclear weapon projects were highly classified in the 1960s so Yu’s
name remained a secret until 1988, when he officially retired. Even his
wife had no idea of his involvement in the project before then.
After solving one key problem in 1965, Yu reportedly used code to
relay his breakthrough to Deng Jiaxian, another scientist who played an
instrumental role in developing China’s atomic and hydrogen weapons.
Yu reportedly phoned Deng and told him that he “hunted a squirrel”
that had an “uncommon physical structure”, and “needed more manpower to
help with dissection”, as a hint for his new findings. Deng rushed to
Shanghai from Beijing after the phone call, the newspaper reported.
Yu, a Hebei native, graduated from Peking University. He did not
study overseas and had few chances to interact with foreign experts,
according to the website.
A total of 24 scientists have received the award in previous years,
including the father of hybrid rice Yuan Longping, and urban planner Wu
Liangyong. Physical chemist Zhang Cunhao and nuclear weapons expert
Cheng Kaijia shared last year’s award.
Meanwhile, 318 cutting-edge scientific research projects – including
network computing, methods for converting methanol to olefins, and the
Tianhe-1 supercomputer – received national science awards for 2014,
according to the State Council.