[Viewpoint] Nuclear renaissance

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[Viewpoint] Nuclear renaissance

At its three-day Board of Governors’ meeting in Vienna, Austria that closed on Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency made an important decision. The United Nations-led nuclear watchdog reached a broad conclusion to officially confirm that South Korea has not used nuclear material for military purposes and that there are no unreported nuclear activities in the country.

Every year, the IAEA Board of Governors releases an annual Safeguards Implementation Report. South Korea’s nuclear transparency will be included in that report.

With this publication, all nuclear allegations involving the country, including the 2004 enrichment experiment using a miniscule amount of nuclear material, will be closed.

It will be the first official validation that South Korea has complied with its international obligations on nonproliferation since the country began its atomic energy activities half a century ago.

The international community maintains strict standards for nuclear transparency and guarantees are needed to assure that a country is engaged in no covert or suspicious activity.

The IAEA not only uses open information but also takes into account other data including the nuclear programs of each country, research and development capabilities, export and import records, satellite surveillance images and environmental sampling test results to make a conclusion about a country’s implementation of nuclear safeguards.

Now, South Korea can be listed as a state with “Integrated Safeguards” status, ending its decades-long submission to inspections. It will share important safeguards information and manpower with member countries. In the future, the number of nuclear inspections will be reduced by half, and the inspection methods will be changed to documentation and random or short-term reporting.

This international recognition as a global leader in nuclear transparency will heighten South Korea’s standing, and will enable Korean inspectors to take an active role in the international arena.

The country, however, still needs to work on the following two aspects in order for this development to actually benefit Korea’s nuclear power industry.

First, efforts to strategically use nuclear diplomacy based on nuclear transparency is necessary. A second renaissance is expected in the nuclear power industry due to the recent rise in oil prices, China and India’s expansion of nuclear power generation markets and developing nations’ entry into new markets. The superpowers of nuclear power generation such as the United States and Russia, however, want to stop the exploding demands from translating into global nuclear proliferation. To this end, the superpowers are planning a multilateral nuclear fuel supply regime by developing new reactors through international cooperation while enrichment and reprocessing will be limited to only a few countries.

Therefore, South Korea must secure new reactors and long-term capabilities to develop and supply nuclear fuel through international cooperation. The handling of used nuclear fuel is a particularly sensitive issue that requires permission from state suppliers of the technology.

This is a crucial time to reinforce the nation’s nuclear diplomatic power in order to maintain nuclear fuel supply and the country’s capacity for recycling of used nuclear fuel in order to enter the international market.

Second, the nation is in urgent need of a new cooperation program in order to share manpower, facilities, equipment, information and technologies with the IAEA. The United States, Japan and other advanced countries promote their national interests by sharing their resources with the IAEA through membership support programs.

As of now, the IAEA is in preparations for “Vision 2020.” It is aimed at optimizing the nuclear watchdog’s roles in nonproliferation, reinforcement of verification capabilities, preparation to prevent terrorism and detection of illegal trade networks as the global nuclear power market expands.

South Korea must actively join the international move and its energy and nuclear power policy must be designed with a forward-looking perspective.

International society sees the Korean Peninsula as the touchstone for achieving denuclearization after the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula between the two Koreas and the announcement of four principles to use nuclear energy for peaceful purpose.

The IAEA’s formal recognition of South Korea’s nuclear transparency should serve as an opportunity for South Korea to play a role as a pioneer in defending not only peace in the Northeast Asian region, but also protecting mankind from nuclear threats.

*The writer is the president of the Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hun-gyu
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