Thursday, May 17

Nuclear Burma?

Excerpted from The Economist.

"To anyone who has strolled the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s capital, and spotted the grim-looking government building devoted to atomic energy, this seems a most unlikely turn of events. But on Tuesday May 15th Russia announced that it would help the south-east Asian country’s ruling junta to set up a nuclear research reactor. Myanmar—once called Burma—had reportedly tried to strike a similar deal with Russia before, but the plan stalled over payment. Now Myanmar, flush with an annual trade surplus (the country is well endowed with natural resources, like oil), says it will pay cash, and Russia has accepted.

"...The plan is to build a 10 megawatt nuclear reactor that uses low enriched uranium. The centre 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.

"...What America or others will do about Myanmar’s putative research programme is unclear. Putting nuclear materials in the hands of unstable regimes, or unpredictable dictators, seems far from a good idea. An American decision to provide the technology, in the 1950s, for a nuclear reactor in Kinshasa, in Congo, (in gratitude for uranium supplied by Congo to America for use in the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945), proved to be less than sensible. Nuclear-fuel rods were stolen in the 1970s and then traded by Italian smugglers, raising fears that terrorists could get their hands on such material.

"As in Congo, where a dictator was unable to ensure the secure storage of the nuclear material, or as in North Korea, where a dictator seems keen to develop nuclear weapons, the lesson for Russia over Myanmar should be clear: spreading nuclear technology to troubled countries is a bad idea."


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