Korea Ekes Out Small Gains in New Nuke Pact with U.S.

      April 23, 2015 09:43

      Korea accepted partial defeat on Wednesday in a revised nuclear pact with the U.S. that does little to solve the problem of vast stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel piling up in storage here.

      The original agreement imposed back in 1973 prohibited Korea from enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel rods from its nuclear power plants. The revision only allows Korea to produce low-enriched uranium and start research on recycling spent nuclear fuel.

      But that does not mean Seoul can now start reprocessing its own fuel rods.

      Park Ro-byug, who led Seoul's negotiations, and U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert signed the deal. The agreement will remain in force for 20 years.

      U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert (left) and Park Ro-byug, Korea's nuclear negotiator, shake hands after signing a revised nuclear pact in Seoul on Wednesday.

      Korea can research a method called pyroprocessing that does not produce weapons-grade plutonium. The two sides agreed to discuss additional reprocessing and recycling processes based on joint research to be conducted until 2020.

      The "gold standard" of a permanent ban on uranium enrichment and plutonium extraction by governments negotiating new nuclear deals with the U.S. was not included in the revised pact, since it was seen as a country infringing on another sovereignty.

      A government official said, "We gained greater autonomy by changing the requirement for obtaining prior approval from the U.S." for every activity "to a 'comprehensive long-term approval.'"

      Korea could also turn uranium provided by the U.S. into a low-enriched form that can be used for energy but not bombs. It is still prohibited from producing highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium.

      But in an important concession, Korea will be able to export nuclear materials and equipment to a third country without obtaining U.S. approval. This is vital for Korea's burgeoning nuclear plant industry.

      A government official said, "The important thing is that we've emancipated ourselves from the unilateral dependence and control from Washington."

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