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S. Korea, U.S. fail to bridge gaps on reprocessing, uranium enrichment

2013/06/04 17:42

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States failed Tuesday to narrow differences on whether Washington would allow Seoul to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel for the South's civil nuclear energy program, a senior Seoul official said.

The official at Seoul's foreign ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, made the remarks as the allies wrapped up two days of talks in Seoul aimed at revising a bilateral nuclear accord.

The agreement, last revised in 1974, bans Seoul from reprocessing spent fuel because it could yield plutonium that could be used to build atomic bombs.

Seoul wants Washington to allow it to use a proliferation-resistant technology for enriching uranium and reprocessing spent atomic fuel, but Washington has been reluctant to do so apparently because of proliferation concerns.

"We did not narrow differences on key issues," the official said, adding that the two nations still remained far apart, despite Seoul's bid to win U.S. permission to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

This week's talks, led by Ambassador Park Ro-byug, Seoul's chief negotiator, and Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary for international security and non-proliferation, were first of their kind since the allies agreed in late April to extend the current agreement by two more years until March 2016.

South Korea and the U.S. will hold another round of negotiations in September in Washington, the official said.

"We will continue to make efforts to persuade the U.S. side to revise the agreement in an advanced and mutually beneficial manner," the official said.

In the face of growing nuclear waste stockpiles and its ambition to become a global power in the civilian nuclear industry, South Korea hopes to adopt the so-called pyroprocessing technology, which leaves separated plutonium, the main ingredient in making atomic bombs, mixed with other elements.

South Korea wants the U.S. to allow it to use the new technology because it has to deal with more than 10,000 tons of nuclear waste at storage facilities that are expected to reach capacity by 2016.

Some nonproliferation experts say pyroprocessing is not significantly different from reprocessing, and the plutonium could quickly be turned into weapons-grade material.

kdh@yna.co.kr

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