[ROSTRUM]Tests breed mistrustThe experiment to separate 0.2 grams of around 10-percent enriched uranium that some Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute researchers conducted in 2000 recently stirred up a huge shock both domestically and internationally. The aftershocks of the incident will probably continue for a while. The uranium separation experiment is up on the test stand for international criticism, and there seem to be mixed feelings of optimism and uneasiness concerning the way things are going. It is unthinkable that the experiment getting all this attention has anything to do with our will or capability to develop nuclear weapons, but there is concern that the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes could be hampered because of this incident.
It is well-known that Korea has few resources and depends entirely on imports for energy. Therefore it is true that we have increased our dependence on atomic energy, to alleviate our dependence on others for energy at least in power generation. The problem is that the domestication of nuclear fuel using slightly enriched uranium is compulsory for the construction and operation of nuclear power plants. This considered, if we are restrained by international society because of the experiment, it could have a fatal effect on the entire domestic atomic energy industry.
Compiling the contents of all open documents, it is clear that the uranium separation experiment was just a one-time experiment by a few researchers who were induced by scientific curiosity, not a repetitive or planned experiment with impure intentions. But the opinions of outsiders do not appear to be supportive by any means.
Now we need to realign our battle lines. First of all, we have to make sure that the talk of the experiment does not become exaggerated and turn into an object of suspicion from international society. The suspicions of international society have to be totally and quickly relieved. If these doubts are not eliminated, our atomic energy industry, which needs international cooperation absolutely, might be faced with a crisis and wither to death. That is why our government should get all its diplomatic abilities together to relieve it. More specifically, the government should most certainly offer cooperation in nuclear inspections, and also move to persuade not only the United States and neighboring countries like China, Russia and Japan, but also France, Great Britain and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The nuclear non-proliferation system was established under the initiative of the United States. Although there are some unfair aspects, it has definitely contributed to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. Therefore, we should re-examine our domestic policy so that we do not bring about the mistrust of international society any further. Using this as a turning point, we have to learn from Japan. Japan could not carry out nuclear experiments either, but it has received permission for enrichment and treating spent fuel rods after years of diplomatic efforts. We also need to use this incident as an occasion to turn our misfortune into a blessing. And, by concentrating all our national diplomatic capability, we have to establish an infrastructure that will allow us to transparently pursue research and development on atomic energy openly through all the nuclear cycle.
* The writer is a professor of law at Catholic University of Korea. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hahm Chul-hoon