Push the nuclear negotiationSouth Korea and the United States failed to narrow their differences over allowing Seoul broader use of technology in commercial nuclear processing and spent fuel in a bilateral nuclear cooperation pact that expires in March 2014. They compromised to extend the current arrangement for another two years. In a recent sixth-round negotiation in Washington that began on Tuesday, the U.S. remained opposed to its traditional ally’s demand to revise the pact signed in 1974 to lift the ban on uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel based on proliferation-resistant technology for cost-saving and stable supply of commercial nuclear power. Washington does not agree to it for the sake of safeguarding its nonproliferation pact with other countries.
When South Korea signed the pact, it had no nuclear reactor. Korea is now the world’s fifth-largest commercial nuclear power producer, with 23 reactors that generate 35 percent of the country’s electricity. Korea insists it needs freer hands in the spent fuel cycle in order to run its nuclear operations and export a complete package overseas. Starting with the Gori reactor in 2016, current disposal facilities storing nuclear waste will reach the saturated point by 2024. The reactors will have to shut down if the waste is not reprocessed.
Washington’s position is understandable, with U.S. President Barack Obama’s commitment to nonproliferation and creating a world free of nuclear threats. It also may be concerned with the rising voice in South Korea arguing for developing its own nuclear weapons against North Korea’s nuclear threat. But Seoul is firm on its peaceful use of nuclear fuel. Washington does not seem to trust South Korea as much as it reiterates blood-tight relations with Korea are as important as a linchpin, since it does not agree to revising the pact.
Just because the pact has been extended for two years does not assure that the two will narrow their differences. It is merely a makeshift move to avoid a dispute. President Park Geun-hye during her campaign promised to revise the nuclear pact progressively. She must address and resolve the issue during her summit meeting with her U.S. counterpart when she visits Washington next month.