[EDITORIALS]Prudence on the nuclear issueThe spreading sensation over the discovery of 0.2 grams of uranium that was produced by South Korean scientists is very disturbing. Member countries of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, are reportedly displeased. Even the U.S. government, which said previously that the discovery was not much of an issue, is now raising concern. Amid these circumstances, the situation is going more awry as Korea was recently found to have extracted plutonium in 1983.
This problem cannot be easily overlooked since our credibility in global society depends on this very issue. Korea has claimed that it would not enrich or reprocess uranium. If we give the impression to other countries that we have been doing so behind their backs, the consequences will be tremendous. We must also keep in mind that it may serve as an obstacle in the six-way talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem.
To make matters worse, North Korea has stated that it will be difficult to prevent a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, implying that it will make an issue out of this situation. Therefore the South Korean government must concentrate its diplomatic powers on countries related to the six-party talks such as the United States and Japan, as well as member states of the IAEA. It must take a sincere stance in proving our transparency.
In that sense, the government’s initial response was poor. At the time, the Science Ministry said that research in laboratories did not violate international laws. Then, the Foreign Ministry took a different stance and said that the extraction of uranium in itself was subject to being reported. This only increased suspicions in countries that already had doubts about us.
Our research labs are scanty and the uranium extracted was a petty amount. This must not be portrayed as if Korea is pursuing nuclear weapons tests. Instead, the government should concentrate diplomatic efforts on persuading neighboring countries so that Korea can independently purchase nuclear fuel, since 40 percent of the nation’s energy relies on nuclear power.
North Korea should also refrain from provoking unnecessary disputes. If North Korea evades the six-way talks, taking this issue of South Korea’s uranium enrichment as an excuse, it must bear in mind that circumstances will then turn unfavorable for them.
South Korea is open about its nuclear extraction tests, even if they were performed in laboratories on a research level. North Korea, on the other hand, has made large quantities of nuclear materials. North Korea should follow South Korea as an example and allow inspection of its uranium enrichment operations.
We urge the press, including the U.S. and Japanese press, to be prudent as well. Speculative reports are of no use in solving nuclear problems involving North Korea. These reports can also produce ill effects that draw Northeast Asian countries into nuclear competition. The press should keep its equanimity in such sensitive issues as this.