Myanmar suspected of seeking nuclear arms

Updated On: Aug 05, 2009

It is increasingly suspected that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been assisting Myanmar with a nuclear arms program. As early as in 2003, The US media reported that North Korean engineers were active in the Southeast Asian country. In 2006, the US Senate held hearings on alleged nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

The subject came up once again in Congress in June. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also expressed her concerns at the recent ASEAN Regional Forum.

The Australian media cited defectors from the country who claim that Myanmar is building a nuclear reactor for arms development with North Korean help. The reactor is slated to be completed in 2014.

The nuclear connection between the North and Myanmar has yet to be confirmed but seems convincing given Pyongyang's track record. It is known that North Korea cooperated with Iran and Pakistan on missile and nuclear arms development, and that DPRK assisted with Syria’s nuclear project. It also acquired uranium-enrichment technology and equipment from Pakistan.

Pyongyang may be assisting Phnom Penh in exchange for food, or it may be trying to provoke Washington. Another possibility is the DPRK is trying to build additional bombs indirectly through Myanmar. North Korea's production of weapons-grade plutonium has not been smooth partly because its Yongbyon facilities have deteriorated. It may be hoping to resolve the problem through its assistance to Myanmar.

The cooperation may even have the aim of producing highly enriched uranium-based nuclear bombs, which are easy to build and do not need to go through detonation tests. They can also be stored for a long time.

Myanmar is in close proximity to Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh. The development of nuclear arms technology by the military junta is likely to be considered a serious threat to the region.

Russia has also been suspected of providing nuclear assistance to the country. The former reportedly agreed in 2007 to provide Myanmar a small, civilian light-water reactor, which would be subject to UN inspections, although the project’s exact status is disputed.


Nuclear watchdog urged to seek answers from Burma, 5 August 2009,


North Korea and Myanmar, 5 August 2009,


Burma obtains North Korean help with suspicious nuclear programme, 3 August 2009,


Defectors detail Myanmar’s nuclear ambitions: report, 2 August 2009,


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