Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Defectors detail Myanmar’s nuclear ambitions: report


Myanmar’s military regime has collaborated in recent years with North Korea and Russia to develop a reactor capable of producing one nuclear bomb a year by 2014, a news report based on the testimony of two defectors claimed yesterday.

The report, published in the Bangkok Post’s Spectrum magazine yesterday after a similar article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, was the result of a two-year investigation into Myanmar’s nuclear ambitions by Desmond Ball, a regional security expert at the Australian National University, and Phil Thornton, an Australian journalist based on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Basing their report primarily on the testimony of two defectors from the Myanmar regime, including one army officer and a book keeper for a trading company with close links to the military, the report claimed that Myanmar, also called Burma, is excavating uranium in 10 locations and has two uranium plants in operation to refine uranium into “yellowcake,” the fissile material for nuclear weapons.

To have a capacity to make nuclear weapons Myanmar would need to build a plutonium reprocessing plant.

Such a plant is planned in Naung Laing, central Myanmar, where Russian technicians are already “teaching plutonium reprocessing,” the army defector, Moe Jo, an alias, told the investigators.

Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s atomic energy agency in May, 2007, to build a 10-megawatt light-water reactor using uranium.

The report suggests that Myanmar’s non-military nuclear ambitions are nonsense.

“They say it’s to produce medical isotopes for health purposes in hospitals,” civilian defector Tin Min, a former employee of the junta-connected Htoo Trading Company, told Spectrum.

“How many hospitals in Burma have nuclear science? Burma can barely get electricity up and running. It’s nonsense,” Tin Win, an alias, said.

Htoo Trading, owned by Myanmar business tycoon Tay Za, who has close connections with the military, is handling shipments of yellowcake to both North Korea and Iran, the report claimed.

It speculated that in the future North Korea might provide Myanmar with fissionable plutonium in return for yellowcake.

The report’s two authors urged Myanmar’s neighbors in ASEAN to closely monitor Myanmar’s nuclear program, the subject of much speculation in the past.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the specter of closer North Korean-Myanmar collaboration in nuclear armaments during her visit to Thailand last month to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia’s main security event.

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