Burma Must Make Clear its Nuclear Ambitions
By AUNG ZAW Monday, August 3, 2009


Reports of Burma’s shady nuclear ambitions have resurfaced to take their place alongside warnings by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of secret military ties and possible technology transfers between Burma and North Korea.

One report which aroused special interest was based on research by Desmond Ball, an Australian security analyst and author of several books on nuclear strategy and security issues in the Asia-Pacific.

However, to understand the present situation and Burma’s nuclear ambitions we need to look at the past. Burma’s interest in nuclear science and technology is, in fact, nothing new.

Three years ago, The Irrawaddy published a special cover story on Burma’s nuclear ambitions. A Burmese scholar, Maung Thuta, wrote: “More than five decades ago, Kyaw Nyein, the pragmatic modernist among the ruling triumvirate, with U Nu and Ba Swe, and the driving force behind Burma’s nascent industrialization, oversaw the setting up in 1953, under the Ministry of Industry, of the Union of Burma Applied Research Institute (UBAEC), in collaboration with the American Armour Research Foundation.”

In 1955, the Atomic Energy Centre and the Atomic Minerals Department were established and dozens of young scholars and technicians were sent abroad, mainly to the US, to study medical physics, nuclear physics, nuclear, metallurgical and mining engineering and technical training in nuclear applications in instrumentation, agriculture and industry. The same year Burma attended the first international conference on peaceful uses of atomic energy, which was held in Geneva. Two years later, Burma joined the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Maung Thuta, in an article entitled “Transparency Needed," wrote "at the dawn of the ‘Atomic Age,’ Burma’s nuclear elites centered around the UBAEC apparently had no doubts about propelling Burma into a modern industrial state through extensive research and development in the fields of power production, agriculture, medicine, industry and

Indeed, Burma was well advanced in those days to develop a nuclear project, compared to neighboring countries. In the early 1960s, a site for a nuclear research reactor was designated near the Hlaing Campus in Rangoon.

“However, the first phase of nuclear ambitions faltered and stagnated within a few years when the much-vaunted ‘Pyidawthar’ industrial plan failed and UBAEC patron Kyaw Nyein fell from grace amid disputes among the ruling political elite,” Maung Thuta wrote.

Burma’s early nuclear ambitions ended there. Gen Ne Win, who staged a military coup in 1962, had little interest in nuclear projects, nor did he trust scholars. So Burma’s nuclear program fell by the wayside, although in 1984 the general admitted to university professors at a private dinner party that he had made a blunder by ending it.

One of the experts from those times, Thein Oo Po Saw, who earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois in 1950s, remains active in Burma today. 

Thein Oo Po Saw played a crucial role in reviving Burma’s Atomic Energy Committee and renewing links with the IAEA. 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).

The professor has taught at the Defense Services Academy in Maymyo and is currently an adviser to the Ministry of Science and Technology and adjunct professor at the Yangon [Rangoon] Technological University.

Whatever the motives involved, the regime revitalized the nuclear project. An Arakanese professor, Thein Oo Po Saw, renewed links with the IAEA. Since then, Burma has been demonstrating its intention to develop nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes.”

The regime has outwardly supported the concept of nuclear-free zones and signed the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, or Bangkok Treaty, in 1995. A year later, Burma signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Burma’s renewed interest in nuclear technology was evident, however. The Ministry of Science and Technology was created in 1997 and headed by an extreme nationalist, U Thaung, a graduate of Defense Services Academy Intake 1.

Two years later, Burma began negotiations with Russia on a nuclear reactor project, and in January 2002 the military regime confirmed plans to build a nuclear research reactor for “peaceful purposes.” The Deputy Foreign Minister at that time, Khin Maung Win, declared that Burma’s “interest in nuclear energy for peaceful purpose is longstanding.”

Thein Oo Po Saw also played a key role in the military-sponsored National Convention.

1  |  2 | 3 

Please read our policy before you post comments. Click here
E-mail:   (Your e-mail will not be published.)
You have characters left.
Word Verification: captcha Type the characters you see in the picture.

pLan B Wrote:
Mike Lewis,

Your candor is commendable. As you know, the SPDC has repeatedly proven the West wrong on their present stop at nothing approach to survival and control.

With full engagement with North Korea now at hand, one can easily extrapolate wisely that the next step even though requiring much more sophisticated tech and equipment cannot be that hard to realize even under the nose of ASEAN and the west. Examples abound.

A recent well_known case of radioactive material being pushed around for the best $$ aside with NK now both can rely on each other to be more defiant.

Yes no hard evidence, therefore should not be treated as such.

Trusting the Russian and North Korea to develop the technology in Burma?

I would rather have the West help the SPDC if their ambition is to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Surely a good point to start engagement. "Developing energy for the Burmese need".
Everybody comes out looking good. Maybe the SPDC will shed North Korea's terrible influence.

pLan B Wrote:
A very good step by step approach from Eric Johnston here:

plan B Wrote:
Ko Aung Zaw,

Fair summation without much prejudice.
But have you considered the why, what, how and when of this "ambition"?

WHAT is exactly SPDC nuclear ambition?
A lot of nonsense have been posted here that "muddy the water."

Meanwhile, the SPDC gets even closer to N Korea--an ominous warning, indeed.

WHY and HOW of this ambition?

A very important critical even analysis is in order but will it be again disrupted by all these hate SPDC opinionated?

WHEN does SPDC intend to reveal the info?
Given the sentiment of SPDC cannot do anything right, enough ever attitude here probably never.

3 out 4 against your article endeavor so far. A grim reality indeed.

planB Wrote:
Salai Biak,

Good point 1&2.

Pt 3 the crying wolves attempt now. As you know the don't wish for something you do not want saying.

Pt4 & 5

These exile organizations have become nothing more than a shell of their former selves.
I will really like Turnell and his ilk to see what they do with their $$.

Are they really helping the Burmese or just themselves? Good for them if they follow Ayatollah Khomeini's example.

mike leiws Wrote:
Clutching at straws journalism

Pwa Gyi Wrote:
According to the article, no clear evidence exists that can reflect that the nuclear weapons or WMD are on the way to production.

Thus, it is obviously a clear speculation and I wonder why such an issue of no worth is put on The Irrawaddy site.

It is more likely a not-so-smart ploy made up by so-called exile gourps, those have made and are trying to make a lot of money by the name of "For the people of Burma" from abroad, by pointing the fingers at the current junta.

They seem to be day-dreaming that their main donors from the US and EU will invade Burma, like Iraq and Afaganistan, which is the only way they might get into power in Burma (under the name democratization in Burma) for which they have dreamt and waited for about 20 years.

Sorry guys ! It is such a cheap as well as a cheating attempt.

Salai Biak Wrote:
(1)the West is reluctant to accept the rise of Asian power. US, EU power are already declining. That's why Obama is turning to SE Asia which Bush abandoned. We are now living in the Asian century, whether the West likes it or not.

(2)Why is the West worrying about Burma's (or any other country's) nuclear issues while the UK, for example, owns 500 nuclear weapons?

(3)Burma is not pursuing nuclear weapons. It's just more propaganda from exile groups. The US & UK should not make another mistake like they did in Iraq. Burmese exile groups should stop here if they really love their country.

(4)NCGUB is asking for more donations in Jakarta in the name of Burmese people. I'm so sad to see this political deadlock.

(5)My proposal: except ethnic groups(outside the country), I'd be very grateful to see exiled groups (NCGUB, NCUB & related groups) find a way to enter the country, even contest the 2010 elections. This way, you can help resolve ethnic issues. It'll be good for the country & people. Otherwise, don't try to make friends with us.

nono Wrote:
The Irrawaddy is one of the best opposition- supporting newsletters ever and is the good news for all Burmese people but I know it is a bad news letter for the SPDC supporters and the dictators. Don't be angry with the Irrawaddy, if any one want to say that the SPDC are good; there is Myanmar Alin.

Okkar Wrote:
Irrawaddy, please don't edit my post without knowing what I intend to write. You may think you are correct gramar and spelling mistakes, but instead you change the content of my comments entirely. Have you no shame? Is this the sort of tactics used by opposition supporters claiming to be righteous? Shame on you!

(Eds: Changes to submitted comments are made only to make them intelligible. Correcting incorrect and unintelligible English on an English language Web site is NOT censorship.)

Maung Myo Chit Wrote:
Some territories controlled by past Myanmar kings are now in neighboring countries. These territories rightfully belong to Myanmar and to reclaim them, Myanmar needs nuclear weapons.

Another purpose is to wipe rebel cities like Yangon and Mandalay off the face of the earth if they become too troublesome to control from Naypyidaw.

mike lewis Wrote:
Need a lot more evidence to prove this. Two defectors isn't concrete enough. Having nuclear reactors doesn't mean nuclear weapons. Bit of overreaction, I think!

okkar Wrote:
It seems defectors are trying hard to persuade Western nations to invade Myanmar under the pretext of WMD, like they have done in Iraq. However, these people, the so-called exiled Burmese, are so out of touch with reality. They still think that the US and UK still wield the military might they once did before the Iraq and Afghan wars. Both the US and UK are in no position to start another war, not with a Democrat President in the White house and while US armed forces are fighting two simultaneous wars. The UK doesn't look too good either. The Brown government is on its way out, while a third of UK armed forces are unfit/undeployable to a theatre operation. Not to mention the economic climate and depression that is sweeping through both countries. Neither the US nor UK are in a position to invade Myanmar even if they want to.

Isn't it time for the opposition to stop playing the same cards other people have played before? I mean, the world isn't gonna get fooled again about WMD!

More Articles in This Section

bullet Sizing Up an Icon

bullet Fighting Corruption Begins at Home

bullet Future of Exiled Burmese Media

bullet How Much Freedom Does Burmese Media Enjoy?

bullet Five Days in Burma

bullet Turning Burma into Next Asian Tiger No Simple Task

bullet With Suu Kyi On Board, Is Burma Finally Moving Toward Real Change?

bullet The ‘Rule of Law’ in Burma

bullet New Doors are Opening in Burma

bullet A Good Beginning to the New Year

Thailand Hotels
Bangkok Hotels
China Hotels
India Hotels


Home |News |Regional |Business |Opinion |Multimedia |Special Feature |Interview |Magazine |Burmese Elections 2010 |Archives |Research
Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group. All Rights Reserved.