Russia to build NPP for Burmese junta

Publish date: May 25, 2007

Russia has agreed to supply Burma with its first nuclear reactor, in a move that is likely to dismay the United States and raise fresh fears about the spread of nuclear technology around the world.

Russia’s atomic energy agency said it had reached a deal with Burma’s military junta to build a nuclear research centre. The plant will have a light water reactor with a capacity of 10MW. It will use 20% enriched nuclear fuel, the Guardian reported.

Burma’s science minister, U Thaung, signed a memorandum of understanding in Moscow on May 15th with the agency’s chief, Sergei Kiriyenko, officials said. A contract setting out where the plant would be built – and exactly how much it cost – would be agreed later, they added.

Russia’s federal atomic energy agency insisted that Burma had a right to peaceful nuclear technology – and said that there was "no way" it could use the reactor to develop nuclear missiles. The agency’s spokesman, Sergei Novikov, told the Guardian: "It’s impossible to use it for anything other than civilian purposes. It can’t be used for military nuclear programmes." Asked why Burma’s government wanted a nuclear reactor, he replied: "I don’t know."
Mr Novikov then suggested: "They want to make a first start in the peaceful use of nuclear technology."

The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also rejected criticism. "No one is arguing about the right of every state to have peaceful nuclear energy," he said. "We can only welcome achievements in this sector of industry, which is very developed and very safe from the point of view of non-proliferation." Russian officials say the research centre – which will include laboratories and a facility for processing and burying nuclear waste – will produce only a small amount of electricity. Its main purpose will be to produce medical isotopes for use in cancer treatments.
They conceded, however, that Burma would probably build a much larger nuclear reactor at some point. The atomic agency pointed out that the project in Burma, which is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, would come under International Atomic Energy Agency control.

On May 16th, an IAEA official said Burma had not "informed" it about the plan. Any reactor would be subject to safety inspections by the UN agency, the official said. Construction of the reactor will be handled by the state-owned Atomstroiexport, which is controlled by Russia’s atomic agency. "We are currently at the state of declaration of intentions," its spokeswoman, Irina Yesipova, told the Guardian. The deal is a long time in coming. The project was first floated in 2000 but apparently collapsed in 2003 because of Burma’s inability to find the hard currency needed to pay for construction costs. Under the deal, about 350 Burma scientists would be invited to Russia to learn about nuclear technology, Mr Novikov said.