Thein Oo Po Saw: Burma’s Spokesperson for Nuclear Power
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Thein Oo Po Saw: Burma’s Spokesperson for Nuclear Power

By Aung Zaw JULY, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.7


Burma’s nuclear ambitions have been the subject of serious discussions at the country’s constitution-drafting National Convention, which has convened intermittently since 1993. These discussions have been led by Thein Oo Po Saw, a US-trained nuclear scientist.

Thein Oo Po Saw, a leading advocate of nuclear technology
in Burma

In the 1950s, the young Thein Oo Po Saw earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois.  

Thein Oo Po Saw was o­ne of several government-backed scholars sent abroad by the late Prime Minister U Nu as part of an atomic energy program within the Union of Burma Applied Research Institute. He is the o­nly o­ne still working for Burma’s current military government.

When Thein Oo Po Saw returned from the US, the UBARI atomic energy program was no longer active. He subsequently headed the physics department at the Defense Services Academy in Maymyo from 1962 to 1980, and was later named the director of research at Burma’s Central Research Organization, now renamed the Myanma Scientific & Technological Research Department.

Many of today’s top-ranking generals in Burma who studied science at the DSA are his former students.

Thein Oo Po Saw continues to serve the military government as an adviser to the Ministry of Science and Technology and president of the Myanmar Academy of Technology. He also received an honorary doctor of engineering degree from the ministry and still teaches postgraduate courses at the Rangoon Institute of Technology.

He played a crucial role in reviving Burma’s Atomic Energy Committee and renewing links with the International Atomic Energy Association. He also urged Burma’s military regime in 1995 to join the Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training in Nuclear Science and Technology in Asia and the Pacific (RCA).

Since early 2005, Thein Oo Po Saw has also played a central role in the National Convention. During discussions of a chapter of the draft constitution relating to the defense of the Union of Burma, he and several professional colleagues made an interesting suggestion.

The chapter under discussion o­n March 3, 2005, covered seven key points o­n national defense, including chemical and biological weapons. Thein Oo Po Saw suggested an addition to the chapter that covered the “prevention of terrorists acts and pressures” in enacting laws regarding “the defense of the Union of Myanmar and of its every part, and to prepare a defense program.”

That program would potentially include “conventional arms, ammunition and explosives, and non-conventional sophisticated strategic arms” as well as “nuclear energy, nuclear fuel and radiation, and mineral resources that produce them, highly classified materials, objects, areas, technologies, researches and information and special security issues, accidents concerning the persons whose work involves highly classified materials, objects, areas, technologies, researches and information, and compensation and insurance coverage for them in case of accidents,” according to a report in state-run The New Light of Myanmar.  

Aung Toe, the chairman of the National Convention Convening Work Committee, replied by saying that such a program—particularly a nuclear o­ne—would incur international criticism if it was included in the chapter o­n defense and security.

He proposed an alternative approach. “Thus, the matter should be put in the energy, electricity, mining and forestry sector instead of the defense and security sector,” Aung Toe told convention delegates.

“Nuclear energy, nuclear fuel and radiation, and mineral resources that produce them—on the Union legislative list of the defense and security sector—is just to enact laws as necessary in the future. Inclusion of the point in the defense sector cannot be assumed for military purpose o­nly. The aim is to generate electricity and to use nuclear energy and fuel for human interest as well.”

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