Burmese Tycoon Tay Za Claims Uranium Unearthed in Burma

By Thit Nay Moe 20 January 2015

RANGOON — Tay Za, one of Burma’s biggest business tycoons, has claimed that he obtained and subsequently turned over to the government a mineral believed to contain uranium.

A governmental department carried out a lab test that suggested the ore contained uranium, Tay Za said on Monday, adding that he had the mineral tested by two Chinese experts before handing it over to the government.

“The two [Chinese experts] said that it is 13-grade [uranium]. I handed it over to the Science and Technology Department three or four days ago. The department’s lab test results and ours are the same, suggesting that it is uranium,” Tay Za said during a press conference at his residence in Rangoon.

According to the World Nuclear Association, there are two main minerals in which uranium is naturally found: uraninite and coffinite.

Tay Za said he got the unknown ore from locals who found it near Ohn-dan village, which lies about a three-hour drive from Mogok, a mining area in Mandalay Division known for its deposits of rubies and other precious gems.

“They sold me the ore, saying it was an unknown mineral,” Tay Za said, adding that he bought about 3.50 viss (one viss is equal to 3.6 pounds) of the mysterious material and then gave nearly all of it to the government, keeping only a small sample.

He said he would conduct a survey to gauge the size of the purported uranium deposit near Oh-dan village.

“We’ll find out if there is a large deposit. I want [uranium] for national security. We’ve even been provoked by countries like Bangladesh. National security is very important for every country,” he said.

It was not clear what specific “national security” purpose Tay Za envisioned uranium serving. Enriched uranium—created via a complex scientific process that Burma is not known to be capable of—is used both to fuel civilian nuclear power plants and in nuclear armaments.

Tay Za claimed to be suffering from negative health effects that he attributed to exposure to the ore which, if it contained uranium, would have radioactive properties but would not pose health risks unless inhaled or ingested. The tycoon—who said he was struggling with “coughing and a fever”—did not indicate whether he suspected that particulates of the ore had entered his body.

“I have suffered from radiation,” he said. “But if I don’t speak out about what I know, no one will know what Burma possesses. I believe the government will take the lead role in extracting it.”

That very same government had turned its back on him due to widespread perceptions that he is a crony, he alleged at the same press conference on Monday in a tangential swipe at Naypyidaw. The US-sanctioned billionaire denied that he was involved in anything illegal in Burma’s timber trade, saying any logging carried out by his sprawling business empire was done legally and with the approval of the Forestry Ministry.

“All the officials at the Forestry Ministry since we have engaged in logging are still alive and so are the locals at logging sites—you can ask them,” said Tay Za.