select languages
latestnewslatestnews RSS
Home > National > Politics/Diplomacy
U.S. cautious about S. Korea's pyroprocessing technology for spent nuke fuel: State Dept.
By Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 (Yonhap) -- The United States said Tuesday it was still cautious about South Korea's plans to introduce pyroprocessing technology for spent nuclear fuel.

   "Let me just say that that's an issue of ongoing diplomacy between the two sides, very technical," Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters. "We're working closely to ensure that there is an understanding of what expectations are, not only to the United States, but other authorities associated with this going forward."

   The remarks came just one day after the sides concluded the first formal talks here on rewriting a bilateral nuclear pact that expires in 2014.

   The State Department earlier in the day released a readout of the talks between Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, and Cho Hyun, deputy foreign minister for multilateral and global affairs.

   The statement said that the sides "discussed a proposed joint study of nuclear power reactor spent fuel disposition options, including pyroprocessing."
"They agreed that technical experts would meet soon to work out the scope of the study and the venue and schedule for completing it," it said. "Both sides expect the new agreement to ensure the continuance and further development of the robust bilateral cooperation they have enjoyed in atomic energy for more than fifty years, as well as to further contribute to the strengthening of their alliance by enhancing cooperation in nuclear research and development, industry and commerce in the future."

   A 1974 nuclear agreement bans Seoul from enriching uranium or reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.

   Facing a lack of storage facilities, South Korea hopes to adopt pyroprocessing technology, considered to be less conducive to proliferation because it leaves separated plutonium, the main ingredient in making atomic bombs, mixed with other elements.

   The Bush administration did not oppose South Korea building facilities to research pyroprocessing technology, but the Obama administration is said to be less favorable to pyroprocessing, seeing little difference with traditional reprocessing in terms of proliferation, and favors interim storage of spent nuclear fuel.

   Washington fears South Korea's reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel might undermine global nonproliferation efforts and provoke North Korea and Japan.

   South Korea, which produces 36 percent of its energy at 20 nuclear power plants, has to deal with more than 10,000 tons of nuclear waste at storage facilities that are expected to reach capacity in 2016.

   Also, South Korea, which won a US$20 billion contract in December to build four nuclear reactors for the United Arab Emirates, has complained that the constraint on reprocessing has blocked its nuclear exports.

   The U.S. maintains agreements with India, Japan and some European countries for the provision of technological assistance for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.