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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

UN: Thailand is potential nuclear power

Bangkok Post: Thailand was named as a potential nuclear power in a report this morning by the head of the United Nations nuclear agency.

Speaking at a conference on tightening controls against nuclear proliferation, Mohamed ElBaradei said as many as 30 countries could soon have technology allowing them to produce atomic weapons "in a very short time" - and listed Thailand among them.

Mr ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency and winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize , called the countries "virtual new weapons states."

It was unclear and not explained how Thailand got onto the list, since it seemed to meet none of the criteria to interest the United Nations.

"The knowledge is out of the tube ... both for peaceful purpose and unfortunately also for not peaceful purposes," Mr ElBaradei said.

"It's becoming fashionable for countries to try to look into possibilities of shielding themselves ... through the possibility of nuclear weapons," he said, adding: "Another 20 or 30 would have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons in a very short time."

Mr ElBaradei's comments seemed mostly directed at the potential for misuse of uranium enrichment, which can generate both low-enriched, reactor-grade uranium and highly enriched material for nuclear bombs.

But Thailand is also years away, at best, from any commitment even to using nuclear energy for electricity. There is a nuclear reactor in Bangkok used mostly to make isotopes for medical and food irradiation but it is useless in any type of weapons programme.

According to the UN official, these "20 or 30" specifically potential nuclear powers includes Thailand and these countries:

- Australia, Argentina and South Africa: countries he said have recently announced to be considering developing enrichment programmes to be able to sell fuel to states that want to generate electricity with nuclear reactors.

- Canada, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Taiwan, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Lithuania: Nations which either have the means to produce weapons-grade uranium if they chose, could quickly build such technology, or could use plutonium waste for weaponisation.

Reports from Vienna, where Mr ElBaradei spoke, pointed out all the above countries are committed non-nuclear weapons states, and no one has suggested they want to use their programmes for arms.

- Japan, which also says it has no plans to develop atomic weapons, but could make them at short notice.

- South Korea, which also has spent reactor fuel and was found a few years ago to have conducted small-scale secret experiments on making highly enriched uranium that would be usable in warheads.

- Finally, Thailand, Mr ElBaradei's home country of Egypt, Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Namibia, Moldova, Nigeria, Poland, Turkey, Vietnam and Yemen.

These countries are "considering developing nuclear programs in the near future," according to the UN official's speech.

By UN definitions, there are five declared nuclear weapons states: the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain. Four others are known or widely believed to possess the weapons: India, Pakistan, Israel and now North Korea.

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