More on the Russia-Burma nuke deal

JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images Reporting on the Russia-Burma nuclear deal Christine covered yesterday has been somewhat inconsistent, so I’d like to clarify some details for Passport readers. First, it is unclear what sort of uranium fuel the facility will require. Some reports say 20 percent enriched; others say under 20 percent (civilian reactors generally use 3-5 ...

601799_070518_nukes_05.jpg
601799_070518_nukes_05.jpg

JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

Reporting on the Russia-Burma nuclear deal Christine covered yesterday has been somewhat inconsistent, so I'd like to clarify some details for Passport readers.

First, it is unclear what sort of uranium fuel the facility will require. Some reports say 20 percent enriched; others say under 20 percent (civilian reactors generally use 3-5 percent). Since any level of enrichment above 20 percent is usable in a weapon, this is a crucial distinction.

JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

Reporting on the Russia-Burma nuclear deal Christine covered yesterday has been somewhat inconsistent, so I’d like to clarify some details for Passport readers.

First, it is unclear what sort of uranium fuel the facility will require. Some reports say 20 percent enriched; others say under 20 percent (civilian reactors generally use 3-5 percent). Since any level of enrichment above 20 percent is usable in a weapon, this is a crucial distinction.

Second, the size of the reactor doesn’t matter if Burma wants a uranium bomb—it could only serve to justify purchases of highly enriched uranium. IAEA safeguards and Russian controls on the fuel supply will be the real barriers to a Burmese nuclear weapons program.

One thing to keep in mind: Talks over the reactor are “only preliminary.” As Christine said: Watch closely.

Eric Hundman is a science fellow at the Center for Defense Information. His research focuses on emerging technology, terrorism and nuclear policy, including the conventionalization of nuclear forces. He contributes a series of posts for Passport on nuclear technology called “Nuke Notes.”

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