Burma’s Nuclear Ambition

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The Irrawaddy 1 June 2007

Burma’s nuclear ambitions, spotlighted by last month’s announcement that Russia has agreed to help the regime build a nuclear research facility, date back at least seven years. In December 1995, the junta signed the Bangkok Treaty, banning the development, manufacture, possession, control, stationing, transport, testing or use of nuclear weapons under the terms of the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Five years later, after a visit to Moscow by Burma’s minister for science and technology, U Thaung, the junta’s nuclear plans became clearer.

TIMELINE

January 2002

The Burmese government confirms plans to build a nuclear research reactor “for peaceful purposes.”

May 2002

Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry, known as Minatom, agrees to help Burma build a nuclear studies center, to include a 10-megawatt nuclear reactor and two laboratories in Magwe Division, central Burma. The agreement includes the construction of facilities for disposing of nuclear waste and Russian training for Burmese technicians.

July 2002

Russia and Burma sign an agreement in Moscow o­n construction of the proposed nuclear research center in Burma.

April 9, 2004

Keith Luse, an aide to US Senator Richard Lugar, asks whether North Korea is providing nuclear technology to Burma during a Washington seminar organized by the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think-tank.

February 13, 2004

The Burmese government declares that it has “no desire” to develop nuclear weapons, but “has the right to develop nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes.”

September 14, 2004

About 400 young military officers from Burma leave for Russia, amid reports that some of them will study nuclear engineering.

August 3, 2006

Burma’s deputy ambassador to the UN Nyunt Swe tells the UN Conference o­n Disarmament in Geneva that Burma is opposed to nuclear weapons.

May 15, 2007

Russia’s federal atomic energy agency Rosatom announces it will help Burma build the proposed nuclear facility. The agency says the 10-megawatt nuclear reactor, fueled by less than 20 percent uranium-235, will contribute to Burma’s “research in nuclear physics, bio-technology, material science as well as…produce a big variety of medicines.” A first round of talks o­n details of the project began and further discussions are scheduled for the second half of this year.

May 16, 2007

The US condemns the project, while Thailand says it has no worries because the facility will be closely supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency.