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Published: Thursday, 2/7/2002

Curbing nuclear proliferation

It's hard to believe that one of the world's poorest nations wants a nuclear reactor for research and training. That incredible explanation from the Myanmar government gives cause for suspicion.

Myanmar is in South Asia, as are Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The United States is at war in Afghanistan, and although the tension between India and Pakistan has subsided, India still wants Pakistan to deal more forcefully with Islamic extremists, and the relationship between the two nuclear powers continues to be potentially volatile.

With so much tension in that part of the world already, the international community must keep an eye on Myanmar. That government only recently confirmed plans that Russia will help it build its first nuclear reactor. The plans have been underway for more than a year.

The country's deputy foreign minister, Khin Muang Win, insists that the reactor is “purely for peaceful purposes.” The Myanmar military government says the nation needs the nuclear reactor to meet the demand for radio isotopes in the health-care, agricultural, and educational fields.

That Myanmar's military government is unstable obviously raises the level of anxiety. But there are other concerns. Among them is the International Atomic Energy Authority's curiosity about how Myanmar will meet the high maintenance and safety standards. Experts say it will cost about $5 million to build a 10-megawatt reactor, but that doesn't even include maintenance costs. Human rights groups say the plan is frivolous; plus, with a per capita income below $200 (U.S. dollars), Myanmar is one of the world's poorest nations.

Because of poor living conditions, and because Myanmar has been the focus of human rights violations and singled out for involvement in the illegal narcotics trade, Myanmar doesn't have any business building a nuclear reactor. The atomic energy authorities are concerned, and the rest of world should be, too.

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