Myanmar’s military rulers are attempting to build a nuclear weapon, according to a report based on information provided by a former major in Myanmar’s army. But analysts say the program is primitive and poorly planned.
The report, commissioned by the dissident group Democratic Voice of Burma, says while success may be beyond Myanmar’s reach, “the intent is clear.” It says its analysis leads to “only one conclusion: this technology is only for nuclear weapons and not civilian use or nuclear power.”
Robert Kelley, a former senior nuclear inspector with the International Atomic Energy Agency and co-author of the report, said he has reviewed photographs of equipment in Myanmar. The equipment is for chemical processes needed to make uranium compounds in various stages of processing, such as uranium hexafluoride for enrichment and bomb reduction vessels for uranium metal, he said.
“We have seen no actual weapons components,” Mr. Kelley said in an interview. “The parts appear to be prototypes.”
Noting that the factories in Myanmar didn’t get into full swing until 2008 or 2009, he said “based on that, they are just getting started.”
Khin Maung Win, Oslo-based deputy director of the Democratic Voice of Burma, said in a phone interview that the junta is “still too far from developing a nuclear weapon because they are using very primitive technology.”
But Mr. Win cautioned “they are working toward that goal.”
The report prompted Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, to cancel his trip to Myanmar last week.
Mr. Webb said it was unclear whether the allegations have “substantive merit.” However, he added that “given the fact that Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell recently accused Burma of violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 with respect to a suspected shipment of arms from North Korea, there are now two unresolved matters related to activities of serious concern between these two countries. Until there is further clarification on these matters, I believe it would be unwise and potentially counterproductive for me to visit Burma.”
John R. Bolton, who served as under secretary of state for arms control and international proliferation in the George W. Bush administration, said he has “long been worried about the possibility of a Burmese nuclear program.”
Mr. Bolton, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said it is possible that “Burma is a site for hiding the proliferation activities of other states, or for its own program, or for a joint venture.”
Maj. Sai Thein Win, who defected from Myanmar, is the main source for the report. He worked in factories that manufactured prototype components for missile and nuclear programs.
Mr. Kelley described Maj. Win as Myanmar’s version of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who revealed details of the Jewish state’s nuclear program in 1986.
“His evidence corroborates vague rumors by earlier sources that have heard things second-hand whereas Win was there,” Mr. Kelley said.
Maj. Win provided hundreds of color photographs to substantiate the information he provided. The report acknowledges that photographs could be faked, but it notes that “there are so many and they are so consistent with other information and within themselves that they lead to a high degree of confidence that Burma is pursuing nuclear technology.”
Maj. Win visited the nuclear battalion twice with general officers and also attended briefings at which program goals were discussed.
Mr. Kelley said Myanmar’s program is “poorly planned, unrealistic” and is seeking “the highest and most difficult technologies, such as laser isotope separation, using machine-shop drawings of unprofessional quality and photo evidence of crude items.”
“I don’t think they are doing well,” he added.
The nuclear program reportedly is headed by Ko Ko Oo and managed by the Directorate of Defense Services Science and Technology Research Center (DDSSTRC), which is located in May Myo at the Defense Services Technological Academy.
Two factories — one east of Pyin Oo Lwin; the other near Myaing — are dedicated to making prototypes and special components for the missile and nuclear programs, the report states.
Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Western intelligence agencies have found hints of undisclosed nuclear research and development activities by Myanmar for several years.
“But until recently at least, these agencies drew a blank on whether there was in fact a coordinated campaign to do a clandestine nuclear program,” he said.
Mr. Hibbs said the new report does not offer any “smoking gun connection” with North Korea. “Without North Korean aid, Myanmar would probably be a lot farther away from producing any nuclear material, setting up and operating a reactor, reprocessing its fuel, or making a weapon,” he said.
Mr. Bolton said more scrutiny is required of activities in Myanmar “before so much progress is made that a nuclear program there, whether its own or someone else’s, becomes unstoppable.”
In 1989, the military junta changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar.