YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's military chief says the country plans to use nuclear technology for medical, research and energy purposes but will not develop atomic weapons, a statement that came a month after the government said it would declare any nuclear material in the country.
State media on Saturday reported the comments made by the armed forces commander at the graduation ceremony for the military's Medical Academy.
"In modern medical treatment, nuclear medicine is effectively used to treat cancer with radioactive isotopes and radioactive therapy," Vice Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing told the graduating class on Friday at a ceremony on Yangon.
"The military will not develop nuclear technology to produce weapons of mass destruction but will conduct studies and experiments for peaceful purposes in accordance with international standards to use in the medical sector, in laboratory research for science and in the electrical energy sector," the Myanmar-language state-owned Myanma Ahlin reported. English language dailies did not carry the comments.
There has long been speculation, bolstered by reports from defectors, that Myanmar may be secretly developing a nuclear program of some sort with the help of North Korea.
The reformist government of President Thein Sein last month announced it would sign an international agreement that would require it to declare all nuclear facilities and materials. Although it would be up to Myanmar to decide what to declare, it could provide some answers concerning its acquisition of dual-use machinery and its military cooperation with Pyongyang that the U.S. and other nations regard as suspect.
Thein Sein's agreement to allow more scrutiny by U.N. nuclear inspectors was viewed as a willingness to go beyond democratic reforms that have improved relations with Washington, which culminated in a visit by President Barack Obama last month, the first by a U.S. president to the country also known as Burma.
Myanmar's previous military government persistently denied embarking on a nuclear program, decrying such allegations as groundless and politically motivated.
Wracked by corruption and mismanagement from a half-century of military rule, the country's health care is in shambles and ranks among the worst in the world.
Wealthy cancer patients fly to neighboring countries like Thailand and Singapore for treatment, while others wait months for treatment in Myanmar.
The new government has increased the budget for health and has also vowed to seek foreign help in expanding the country's power industry, which is in such a sorry state that blackouts and limited service are common and have prompted public protests.