Nuclear Fallout
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, February 17, 2019


Nuclear Fallout



Nuclear scientist and former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Dr. Robert E. Kelley made headlines earlier in 2010 when he published a report claiming that Burma’s military junta was mining uranium and working toward developing a nuclear reactor. His report was commissioned by the exiled Burmese news agency Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), which was, soon after, shortlisted for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

His analysis has since come under attack from Olli Heinonen, a former colleague at the IAEA, as well as from Dr. David Albright, with whom he co-authored a report in January on alleged Burma-North Korea nuclear links. Kelley discussed these issues with The Irrawaddy, both before and after disclosures surfaced about a sophisticated uranium enrichment operation at Yongbyon in North Korea.

Question: Remind us of the documentation that you reviewed as part of the DVB exposé of the Burmese military junta’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Can you tell us the significance and implications of this material?

Answer: First, the jargon and terms that people were using were reminiscent of insider knowledge, not just general mentions of ‘a nuclear program in Burma.’ I got a chance to interview the defector source, Sai Win, when he came out, and the photos he brought out were of pieces of chemical processing equipment at the factories he worked in. I recognized one of those objects as a bomb reactor, which is a very strong steel vessel for producing metal and chloride compounds, usually uranium or plutonium. What I found was a set of photos showing uranium compounds for use in a nuclear program, either for fuel in a nuclear reactor or metal parts in a nuclear bomb. I didn’t see much other purpose for those things or for keeping it all secret, for doing it in military factories or for lying to the Germans inspecting those factories—unless it were for a nuclear weapons program.

Q: Have any significant updates or new information come to light since the DVB report came out in June?

A: Probably the most insight I’ve got is that I have tried to understand the organization that lies behind the program—who has the money, who calls the shots. I understand that a little better now. There is a confusing division between the army and the Ministry of Science and Technology. That has led to a slowdown in the program, I think; but in the long term, the winner of that power struggle could take control of the program and really drive it on.

Q: We are in Bangkok now. One of the ‘weapons’ in the non-proliferation ‘arsenal,’ for want of better words, is the Bangkok Treaty. How can that be used to prevent or preempt any nuclear weapons program? Or, what can or should the international community be doing in response to what might be taking place inside Burma?

A: There are three classes of organizations that could deal with this. Firstly, the IAEA has two obsolete agreements with Burma, which most countries that have nothing to hide have updated—the Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) and the Additional Protocol. The IAEA would have to benefit from heavyweight diplomatic support to get back into Burma, which is very hard to do. The SQP has been amended in many countries and updated, but Burma refuses to engage on this. Secondly, there are sovereign states which may want to jump in, but they have issues in Iraq and Afghanistan, and may not want to get involved. The third party that could address this is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

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PB Publico Wrote:
Heinomen and Albright are most likely to have been in the junta's pocket.

The junta will pay huge amounts of money for this sort of thing, although they may not be as ready in spending a couple of lakhs for some school or hospital equipment.

Let us just hope and see that the ASEAN take the challenge and have guts to face the all- mighty Burma junta! They knew they have been fooled many times before, but they ignored them for "reason" of non-interference, or rather by taking the junta for great idiots.

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