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`Pyro-processing to Be Excluded in Nuke Talks With US`

Posted October. 25, 2010 11:24,   


Korea and the U.S. will exclude the disputed matter of pyro-processing in negotiations on revising their bilateral nuclear energy agreement in Washington Monday.

The two countries agreed instead to conduct a technological feasibility study on pyro-processing, a method of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel that does not produce plutonium.

A Korean official said Sunday, “We will sign a memorandum of understanding to conduct a joint study on the technological feasibility of pyro-processing at talks to revise the Korea-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement, which expires in March 2014. We are in the final stages of discussion.”

This decision is a part of the “two-track approach” that separates inter-governmental negotiations and academic research.

Seoul and Washington decided on the move based on the judgment that they could not narrow differences soon. Korea considers pyro-processing a fuel rod recycling technology whereas the U.S., which holds the cards to the agreement’s revision, harbors doubts over its safety.

Korea is focusing on nuclear weapon development and its use, but the U.S. is more interested in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Korean scholars and politicians have stressed the need to introduce pyro-processing since the storage of nuclear fuel coming out of nuclear reactors will reach saturation by 2016. Some even urge Korea to seek sovereignty in nuclear power.

The U.S. has responded sensitively to the matter, however, because it prioritizes prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons based on national security concerns.

Korea apparently chose not to depend on a technology still in the research stage considering U.S. fears. Moreover, failure to revise the nuclear agreement could put the brakes on Korea’s bidding for nuclear reactor orders from the United Arab Emirates as well as exports of nuclear plants elsewhere.

If the joint study gives a positive review of pyro-processing in recycling spent nuclear fuel, Seoul will then examine whether to include the method in the revision.

Members of the two countries’ delegations reflect the delicate nature of the situation. Korea`s delegation is led by Cho Hyun, who is in charge of multi-diplomatic control at the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, and comprises officials from the ministries of foreign affairs, education, science and technology, and knowledge economy.

The U.S. side consists mainly of nonproliferation experts such as Robert Einhorn, special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the State Department.

At the talks, Korea will devise a framework for the peaceful use of nuclear energy to alleviate U.S. fears. Seoul said the main agenda and targets of the discussion will be stipulation of bilateral cooperation for peaceful use of nuclear energy, revision of the introduction of the existing agreement, and inclusion of a research and development clause in the revised accord.