A nuclear Burma

On Tuesday, May 15, Rosatom, the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency announced that Burma will go nuclear soon. According to The Economist:

On the cards is only a small-scale research program, which Myanmar says will be used to generate power, presumably to keep the flickering lights on in Yangon. The plan is to build a 10 megawatt nuclear reactor that uses low enriched uranium. The center would, reportedly, be under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog. This is a long step from getting the means or the knowledge for building a bomb, but it is enough to spread jitters.

The BBC reports that a 10-megawatt light-water research reactor will be built and that 300 to 350 specialists will be trained to run the nuclear center, which will be located in the “central Burma township of Pwint Phyu in Magwe Division” and is “protected naturally by the Arakan mountain range to the west and the Irrawaddy River to the east.”. The Irrawaddy also added that:

Tuesday’s announcement of a new agreement suggests that Burma now has the capital to proceed, and observers say the likely source of that capital is the country’s vast natural gas reserves. Companies from Russia, India, Thailand, South Korea and elsewhere have bid on the rights to explore Burma’s substantial on- and offshore gas fields. Sales to Thailand alone in 2007 are said to be worth nearly US $1 billion.

Burma and North Korea restored diplomatic ties less than three weeks ago, after breaking ties 24 years ago in 1983, when North Korean terrorists attempted to assassinate South Korea’s president while on a state visit in Rangoon. However, despite the “official” restoration of ties, Burmese and North Korean officials have covertly sent agents and officials to one another’s countries during the 24 years. According to Kyaw Zwa Moe of The Irrawaddy,

Officials from North Korea and Burma have exchanged several visits despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties. In June 2001, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Gil-yon and visited Rangoon with an unofficial delegation. Later it was reported that a team of North Korean technicians arrived and started working at Rangoon. Burma’s military officials also made secret visits to Pyongyang.

As unofficial ties continued, North Korea reportedly sold surface-to-surface missiles to Burma. In July 2003, according to diplomatic sources, around 20 North Korean technicians were sighted at Burma’s main Monkey Point naval facility in Rangoon. They were believed to be installing missiles in patrol boats. Residents and diplomats in Rangoon said the North Korean technicians were staying at a Defence Ministry guesthouse in the capital.

Although the small nuclear project seems innocuous enough, the fact that the military government will be overseeing and running the project is worrisome. What use is nuclear energy in a country where petroleum, which has to be rationed or bought overseas, is benefiting no one but foreign companies and the government?

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