Fresh claims that Burma is trying to acquire the know-how and material to build a nuclear weapon, based on information provided by a former army officer, are published on Sunday, renewing concern about the extent of the junta’s military ambitions.
Unrealistic experiments and crude engineering suggest that success may be beyond Burma’s reach, say researchers for an opposition Burmese media group. They base their claims on information provided by Sai Thein Win, a former major in the Burmese army, who is said to have been trained in Russia in missile technology. He has since defected from Burma.
“The intent is clear and that is a very disturbing matter for international agreements,” said the researchers, Robert Kelley and Ali Fowle, of the Democratic Voice of Burma. “Burma is trying to build pieces of a nuclear programme, specifically a nuclear reactor to make plutonium and a uranium enrichment programme”.
A report, ‘Burma’s Nuclear Ambitions’, is being broadcast on the Arabic satellite television channel al-Jazeera on Sunday. “What we have uncovered is the very beginnings of a nuclear weapons programme,” Evan Williams, the programme’s reporter, said.
In a related development, Jim Webb, chairman of the US Senate foreign relations subcommittee on east Asia and Pacific affairs, said he had put off a visit to Burma because of new, albeit unsubstantiated, allegations that its military regime was collaborating with North Korea to develop a nuclear programme.
“Until there is clarification on these matters, I believe it would be unwise and potentially counterproductive for me to visit Burma,” Webb said.
Kelley and Fowle’s report, ‘Nuclear Related Activities in Burma’, contains a copy of what they say is a secret document from the country’s “nuclear battalion”, instructing a factory to build a “bomb reactor”.
According to a translation, the letter requests the production of material to make a bomb reactor needed for research “for the use of special substance production”. It is signed by Lieutenant Colonel Win Ko. The request came from the No 1 Science and Technology Regiment, Thabeikkyin, and is dated February 4, 2010. It is colloquially referred to as the nuclear battalion, Kelley and Fowle say in their report. They say that the term “bomb reactor” was “simply a very strong vessel to contain a violent chemical reaction”.
Kelley and Fowle compare their source, Sai Thein Win, to Mordechai Vanunu, the technician who blew the whistle on Israel’s nuclear weapons reactor at Dimona. Referring to hundreds of photographs they say he has smuggled out of Burma, they say: “Photographs could be faked but there are so many and they are consistent with other information and within themselves that they lead to confidence that Burma is pursuing nuclear technology”.
Despite their view that Burmese scientists are far from acquiring the technology or building anything dangerous, they say their analysis “leads to only one conclusion; this technology is only for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power”.