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No evidence of Myanmar atom bomb aim: ex-IAEA aide
VIENNA (Reuters) – A former senior U.N. nuclear official has voiced doubt about allegations that military-ruled Myanmar was trying to develop atom bombs, saying available evidence did not support the claim.
“It doesn’t look like … this is a kind of nuclear weapons program which is steaming ahead,” said Olli Heinonen, who stepped down in August as head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s inspections worldwide.
“There is no evidence but it would be good to clarify whatever is taking place,” Heinonen, now a senior fellow at Harvard University, told Reuters on Friday.
A Norwegian-based exile group said in June that Myanmar had a secret program dedicated to acquiring nuclear weapons capability, following up on similar allegations by defectors from the reclusive state.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Heinonen’s former employer, said at the time it was looking into the report. Myanmar is a member of both the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Vienna-based U.N. agency.
Myanmar told the IAEA in September that the allegations were unfounded and that its nuclear activities had solely peaceful ends.
The isolated, impoverished country has been under Western sanctions for two decades and analysts say a nuclearized Myanmar could trigger an arms race in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last year she was concerned about the possible transfer of nuclear technology to Myanmar from North Korea, which has left the NPT and tested two nuclear devices.
Heinonen said Myanmar should let the U.N. agency help clarify the country’s activities, saying there were some “puzzling things” about the purchase a few years ago of sophisticated and expensive metal tool workshops.
He said much of the equipment would be an “overkill” if the aim was, for example, to develop a uranium enrichment program.
Refined uranium can be used to fuel power plants and also provide material for nuclear weapons if enriched further.
“You don’t need this kind of equipment for that,” he said, suggesting it may have conventional military purposes instead.
But Heinonen added that the person involved in buying the equipment was the head of the atomic energy program in Myanmar, which has been planning to build a nuclear research reactor used to produce medical isotopes.
“The question is: why is he buying this equipment?”