Burma

Myanmar Junta’s Nuclear Ambition Timeline

By The Irrawaddy 6 October 2022

The junta’s recent confirmation that it will build a small-scale nuclear power plant in the next few years caps Myanmar’s long pursuit of nuclear technology dating back to early 2000.

The Southeast Asian country’s two-decade-long journey to nuclear capability was made possible by Russia after a series of engagements that accelerated under the current junta and its military predecessor.

Though the current regime insists nuclear energy would be used for peaceful purposes in Myanmar, which has been hit by chronic electricity shortages, many believe this is the first step in a plan to utilize nuclear energy for military purposes including production of nuclear weapons.

The timeline on Myanmar’s long road to nuclear technology:

January 2002

The Myanmar military regime confirms plans to build a nuclear research reactor “for peaceful purposes.”

May 2002

Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry, Minatom, agrees to help Myanmar build a nuclear studies center comprising a 10-megawatt nuclear reactor and two laboratories, in Magwe Division, central Myanmar. The agreement includes the construction of facilities for disposing of nuclear waste and Russian training for Myanmar technicians.

July 2002

Russia and Myanmar sign an agreement in Moscow on construction of the proposed nuclear research center in Myanmar.

April 9, 2004

Keith Luse, an aide to US Senator Richard Lugar, asks whether North Korea is providing nuclear technology to Burma, during a Washington seminar organized by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank.

February 13, 2004

The military regime declares that it has “no desire” to develop nuclear weapons, but “has the right to develop nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes.”

September 14, 2004

About 400 young military officers from Myanmar leave for Russia amid reports that some of them will study nuclear engineering.

August 3, 2006

Myanmar’s deputy ambassador to the UN Nyunt Swe tells the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva that Burma is opposed to nuclear weapons.

May 15, 2007

Russia’s federal atomic energy agency Rosatom announces it will help Myanmar build the proposed nuclear facility. The agency says the 10-megawatt nuclear reactor, fueled by less than 20 percent uranium-235, will contribute to Myanmar’s “research in nuclear physics, biotechnology, material science as well as…produce a large variety of medicines.” The first round of talks o­n project details begin.

May 16, 2007

The US condemns the project, while Thailand says it has no worries because the facility will be closely supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

November 2008

A 17-member high-level Myanmar military delegation led by then junta No 3 Thura Shwe Mann makes a secret seven-day visit to Pyongyang via Beijing, during which the two sides sign agreements to deepen military cooperation.

Shwe Mann and his delegation also visit Myohyang in North Korea, where secret tunnels have been built into the mountains to store and shield jet aircraft, missiles, tanks, missiles, and nuclear and chemical weapons. The visit arouses concerns about the Myanmar military’s nuclear ambitions.

In 2012, while serving as Speaker of the Lower House under U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, Shwe Mann claims the delegation to North Korea observed the air defense system and signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation between two armies, while nuclear weapons were not on the agenda.

2010

Major Sai Thein Win, an engineer in the Myanmar military’s Science and Technology Workshop (known locally as the “nuclear unit”) with a doctorate in atomic energy from Russia, publicly reveals information, including photos, showing that the military regime is studying the possession of nuclear weapons with technological help from North Korea.

July 2013

Lt-Gen Thein Htay, who heads the Directorate of Defense Industries is placed on a US Treasury sanctions list for illicit trade in North Korean arms to Myanmar. He was part of Shwe Mann’s delegation to North Korea in 2008. Today, he serves as a weapon production advisor for the current regime.

2016

Myanmar signs the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty under the democratically elected government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi hands over the ratification instrument to United Nations Under-Secretary-General Miguel de Serpa Soares.

2018

Myanmar’s bicameral parliament approves President U Win Myint’s proposal for Myanmar to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Union Minister for International Cooperation U Kyaw Tin signs the treaty during the UN General Assembly in September.

September 2022

The Myanmar junta and Russia’s state-owned nuclear corporation Rosatom sign a roadmap for further atomic energy cooperation, including possible implementation of a modular reactor project in Myanmar.

The agreement is signed on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF-2022) in Vladivostok, Russia, which is attended by regime chief Min Aung Hlaing.

September 20, 2022

Junta spokesman Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun briefs press, confirming the regime’s plan to implement a small nuclear power plant project in the next few years.

He does not specify the project’s location but says the Atomic Energy Department of the junta’s Ministry of Science and Technology will establish a “nuclear information technology center” in Yangon, which will gauge and influence public opinion on nuclear energy.

Loading