[ed] Nuclear deal with US

Pact is positive in general but leaves something to be desired

Seoul and Washington have signed a new nuclear cooperation accord after four and a half years of grueling negotiations. The deal is positive in many respects, given that it would pave the way for Korea to better manage spent nuclear fuel, develop uranium enrichment capabilities and boost nuclear exports.

It’s true that the agreement stopped short of enabling Seoul to start reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and enrich uranium But this should not be a pretext for devaluing the new pact, considering that Seoul won more leeway in its commercial use of nuclear energy through the deal, which will replace an existing 1974 accord.

First and foremost, the revised agreement’s omission of the so-called “gold standard” provision ?which explicitly prohibits uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing ?marks “significant progress” in that it would put an end to controversy over nuclear sovereignty.

Most notable is that Korea will be able to heave a sigh of relief in the management of spent fuel at a time when its storage facilities for high-level nuclear waste will reach capacity in a few years. The deal opened the door to reprocessing sometime in the future by allowing Korea to conduct research into spent fuel management, using “pyroprocessing” technology.

Korea can also request other countries such as France to reprocess spent fuel on its behalf, which would make it possible for Seoul to avoid the worst-case scenario of halting the use of nuclear power plants due to mounting spent fuel inventory.

Equally important is that the agreement will help Korea, the world’s fifth-largest producer of nuclear power, boost its nuclear energy industry as exports will be made possible with America’s comprehensive consent.

Of course, the new pact leaves something to be desired. More than anything else, the economic viability of “pyroprocessing” is in doubt amid accusations that it is still in an experimental stage. Korea’s frustration could run deeper, taking into account that Japan secured the authority to reprocess spent fuel and enrich uranium as early as 1988.

But the simple comparison of Seoul to Tokyo can be misleading. It was long before the international nuclear non-proliferation regime was established that Japan had obtained the two rights. Furthermore, Korea has no reason to adhere to reprocessing, which could cause misunderstanding in the international community that it may seek nuclear weapons, given the desperate need to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula

Also, there is a long way to go before Korea will actually enrich uranium because of a lack of specific dates and methods for allowing it in the accord.

Despite these pros and cons, it’s meaningful that the accord will clear hurdles that hampered a further development of our nuclear energy industry. What’s needed is to enhance transparency in managing nuclear materials so that the international community won’t raise questions about our nuclear activities.

Hopefully, the nuclear pact will serve as an occasion for Korea to begin debates in earnest concerning the construction of storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel.

SOURCE: The Korea Times

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