[EDITORIALS]Tempest in a teapotThe fact that the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute has produced 0.2 grams of enriched uranium has caused much concern. The International Atomic Energy Agency has for the first time inspected the institute, while American and Japanese media have created a fuss regarding the matter, suggesting that there is a possibility that South Korea might develop nuclear weapons. It is only natural that neighboring countries are keeping a keen eye on the matter. Although both South Korea and North Korea agreed to keep the peninsula nuclear-free in an accord in 1992 that forbids the possession of facilities capable of producing enriched uranium, South Korea has kept such facilities.
Nevertheless, the experiments conducted by the institute dealing with the separation of uranium are not so much of a big deal. The experiment didn’t breach any international law or the agreement between South and North Korea to keep the peninsula nuclear free, nor did it break the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The government and the political parties should know this and respond accordingly domestically and abroad. The people should not be overreacting either.
The experiments conducted in early 2000 didn’t break any international laws at the time. The government made a report on the institutes’ activities in February as the IAEA had added more measures that forbid such research in laboratories. That is why the nuclear watchdog conducted an inspection.
We have to provide a transparent picture regarding our possession of uranium to neighboring countries so that they won’t overreact. For these countries that are already on their toes due to the North Korean nuclear crisis, a South Korean nuclear program is surely a sensitive issue. Hence, the government needs to explain clearly the parameters of the experiment and the whole process involved.
The assurance from the U.S. State Department that the incident does not warrant any concerns came at a very appropriate time.
Above all, North Korea should not use this as an excuse to avoid the upcoming six-way talks.
The whole incident suggests that we have to change the rules on nuclear enrichment. Each year, we spend 400 billion won ($375 million) on importing enriched uranium. How long do we have to leave this situation unresolved? We need a diplomatic effort to allow us to overcome this financial burden.