The world's number of operational atomic warheads increased in 2022, driven largely by Russia and China, a new report out Wednesday said as nuclear tensions have risen since the war in Ukraine.
The nine official and unofficial nuclear powers held 9,576 ready-to-use warheads in 2023 up from 9,440 the year prior, according to the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor published by the NGO Norwegian People's Aid.
Those weapons have a "collective destructive power" equal to "more than 135,000 Hiroshima bombs," the report said.
The figures are published as Moscow has repeatedly raised the nuclear threat in connection to its invasion of Ukraine and Western military aid to the Eastern European country.
On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he had agreed with Minsk to deploy "tactical" nuclear weapons in Belarus, a country on the EU's doorstep.
The additional 136 warheads to the ready-to-use global nuclear stockpile last year were attributed to Russia, which has the world's largest arsenal with 5,889 operational warheads, as well as China, India, North Korea and Pakistan.
"This increase is worrying, and continues a trend that started in 2017," editor of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor, Grethe Lauglo Ostern, said in a statement.
At the same time, the total stockpile of nuclear weapons, which also includes those removed from service, continues to decline.
In the same year, the number of nuclear weapons fell from 12,705 to 12,512, due to the decommissioning of old warheads in Russia and the United States.
But Ostern warned that unless the trend of new warheads being added does not stop, "the total number of nuclear weapons in the world will also soon increase again for the first time since the Cold War."
The eight official nuclear powers are the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea, while Israel is known to have nuclear weapons unofficiallyMyanmar's military-led government, working with Russia's state atomic energy company, has inaugurated a nuclear power information center as a step toward developing atomic power to fill energy shortages in the strife-torn Southeast Asian nation.
Myanmar state media reported Tuesday that the head of the military government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, met with Alexey Evgenievich Likhachev, director general of the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, or Rosatom.
Officials from the two sides met at the newly opened Nuclear Technology Information Center in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, on Monday, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said, reports UNB citing AP.
Myanmar hopes to build and operate a reactor under a preliminary agreement between Myanmar and Rosatom that was signed in 2015, the newspaper said.
The two sides signed memorandums of understanding in Moscow in July on nuclear energy, training and promotion of public understanding of atomic power.
“Thanks to the cooperation of Rosatom, Myanmar will have to enhance the human resources related to the construction and running of a Small Modular Reactor in Myanmar and to produce qualified experts for respective sectors,” the newspaper quoted Min Aung Hlaing as saying.
“Both sides frankly exchanged views on the effective use of nuclear energy in health and agricultural sectors including electricity production and further cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” the newspaper said.
The development is likely to ignite concerns that Myanmar's military would like to develop a nuclear weapons capability. There were suspicions a decade ago that North Korea was supplying nuclear arms technology to Myanmar, but there was no definitive evidence.
Russia maintains friendly relations with Myanmar, which is treated as a pariah state by many Western nations after its army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021 and violently suppressed opposition, killing thousands of civilians and leading to what some U.N. experts describe as civil war.
The United States and other nations have imposed political and economic sanctions against the ruling generals, while Russia supplies the military with arms, including fighter aircraft that are sometimes used against civilians.
Russia has been promoting cooperation on nuclear power with several Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military deposed Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government more than two years ago after making unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud.
The putsch sparked renewed fighting with ethnic rebels and birthed dozens of anti-junta "People's Defence Forces" (PDFs), with swaths of the country now ravaged by fighting and the economy in tatters.
The military will take "decisive action" against its opponents and ethnic rebels supporting them, Min Aung Hlaing told an audience of around 8,000 service members attending the annual Armed Forces Day parade in the capital Naypyidaw.
"The terror acts of NUG and its lackey so-called PDFs need to be tackled for good and all," he said, referring to the "National Unity Government," a body dominated by ousted lawmakers working to reverse the coup.
The junta would then hold "free and fair elections" upon the completion of the state of emergency, he said.
The military announced last month a six-month extension of a two-year state of emergency and postponed elections it had promised to hold by August because it did not control enough of the country for a vote to take place.
"Serenity and stability are vital" before any election could go ahead, Min Aung Hlaing told the parade.
Armed Forces Day commemorates the start of resistance to the Japanese occupation during World War II. It usually features a military parade attended by foreign officers and diplomats.
Workers made last-minute inspections of the parade ground early on Monday, the hulking statues of three of Myanmar's empire-building kings looming out of the dark.
Planes later trailed smoke in the ye