[EDITORIALS]Protect the KEDO siteAll the remaining 57 South Korean workers, the last at the light water reactor project in Sinpo, northeastern North Korea, left the site on Sunday. The 12-year long project, which was implemented under the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework in an attempt to end North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, was abandoned.
The United States, insisting that North Korea violated the Geneva agreement by promoting an uranium enriched nuclear development program, decided to terminate the light-water reactor project and South Korea and Japan agreed with Washington’s decision. The light-water reactor project has been terminated without a solution to the North’s nuclear problem, so the risk index on the Korean Peninsula may go up. It is even more worrisome because the prospects for a new round of six-party talks is in doubt due to the conflict between the United States and North Korea over the North’s counterfeiting.
South Korea has other problems. Who should pay the termination costs of 200 billion won ($200 million) for the project? At present, Washington and Tokyo maintain that they are not in a position to share the cost, while our government wants equal sharing. A controversy has begun. It will be difficult for the government to get a public consensus if it should shoulder most of the clean-up costs, since it has already poured 1.3 trillion won ($1.3 billion) into the project.
Rhee Bong-jo, South Korea’s vice unification minister, said, “The government will closely cooperate with the United States and Japan so that the amount that the South Korean government has already spent on the project will not become useless.” That is a good approach, but the government should carefully seek ways to restart the project in the future. The United States now opposes building the light water reactors in the North, but experts here say that if the six-party talks are concluded and the United States and its allies decide to provide North Korea with light-water reactors, there is practically no alternative to Sinpo as a building site.
In this respect, we have to get North Korea’s attention to properly preserve the construction site. Most of the concrete facilities where the nuclear reactors were to have been installed have already started to rust because the construction of the project has been suspended since December 2003. A plan to cope with the problem is urgently needed. If necessary, Seoul must supply equipment, but it must also deliver to the North a clear message on the reason why the construction site should be well-preserved.