Russia: Burma’s road to nukes?
KHIN MAUNG WIN/AFP Lost in the hubbub surrounding Condoleezza Rice’s Russia visit earlier this week was some disturbing news out of Moscow. Pretty much as soon as Rice boarded her plane to return home, Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom announced that it would help build a nuclear energy research facility in Burma. The facility will ...
KHIN MAUNG WIN/AFP
Lost in the hubbub surrounding Condoleezza Rice’s Russia visit earlier this week was some disturbing news out of Moscow. Pretty much as soon as Rice boarded her plane to return home, Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom announced that it would help build a nuclear energy research facility in Burma. The facility will have a 10MW light-water reactor, use 20 percent-enriched uranium-235, and have processes for storing nuclear waste. Russia plans on training some 300 scientists for the center.
With such low-grade uranium, and with a relatively limited reactor, the center will not have capabilities to develop a nuclear weapons program. Also, Burma is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Moreover, Rosatom promises its activities will be supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Nevertheless, the news is troubling on many fronts. Russia has history of exporting nuclear science to regimes that the West considers sketchy. And for the past 45 years, Burma has been controlled by a military-led junta that Human Rights Watch describes as one of the most repressive in the world. Since 1996, when the United States and the EU imposed sanctions on Burma for its human rights violations, Russia has become a leading supplier of weapons to Burma’s military.
According to The Irrawaddy (a Thailand-based publication about Burma that FP covered last year), Burma has been trying to develop a nuclear energy since 2000, when science and technology minister U Thaung visited Moscow to solicit support. The resulting agreement fell through when questions arose about how the impoverished Burmese would pay for Russia’s assistance. But now, evidently, Burma’s vast natural gas reserves have provided the necessary capital.
So far, the cost and specific location of the project has not been disclosed. And obviously, it will be some time before ground is broken, and even more time until the facility is up and running. But still, this is something to watch closely. Very closely.
More from Foreign Policy
Russians Are Unraveling Before Our Eyes
A wave of fresh humiliations has the Kremlin struggling to control the narrative.
A BRICS Currency Could Shake the Dollar’s Dominance
De-dollarization’s moment might finally be here.
Is Netflix’s ‘The Diplomat’ Factual or Farcical?
A former U.S. ambassador, an Iran expert, a Libya expert, and a former U.K. Conservative Party advisor weigh in.
The Battle for Eurasia
China, Russia, and their autocratic friends are leading another epic clash over the world’s largest landmass.