Seoul and Washington on Tuesday agreed to conduct a feasibility study of pyroprocessing, a new technology for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods, before they begin talks to revise the Korea-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement. Seoul argues it has long proved itself trustworthy enough to reprocess its own fuel rods, which are by now filling secure storage facilities to capacity due to a ban on reprocessing in the original deal.
Second Vice Foreign Minister Chun Young-woo, who is on a visit to Washington, said he exchanged views on the revision of the agreement with senior officials from the White House, and the departments of State and Energy since Monday.
In those discussions, "I agreed with U.S. officials about the need for experts to conduct a technological and economic feasibility study of pyroprocessing before the two countries begin full-fledged talks on this," he told reporters.
Chun explained that unlike conventional technologies, pyroprocessing is a safe method that does not lead to the separate extraction of plutonium which could be used to make nuclear weapons.
But U.S. officials like Ellen Tauscher, the under secretary of State for arms control who is in charge of the revision and nuclear nonproliferation issues, are still reportedly skeptical.
It appears that the U.S. is ready to listen to experts' views, although it has doubts whether pyroprocessing is entirely safe.
Scott Snyder, the director of the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy of The Asia Foundation, advised South Korea to focus more on "nuclear responsibility" and less on its rights as a sovereign state to maintain its "international competitiveness in this newly emerging sector."
In an article for the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, Snyder said the two countries need a creative solution to avoid damage to their relations. The U.S. is motivated by its overarching goal of preventing nuclear proliferation, he added.