Published : 2013-03-10 21:02
Updated : 2013-03-10 21:02
Seoul is considering extending its atomic energy cooperation pact with Washington as they still remain poles apart over its revision, a senior government official said Sunday.
Some experts have called for the extension of the 1974 pact that expires next March, noting any conflict in their negotiations could distract them and impede their efforts to cope with escalating North Korean threats.
“It is difficult to yield fruitful results in one or two months and any rush (over the negotiations) should not negatively influence the bilateral relationship,” the official told the local media.
“Korea and the U.S. have yet to open the first round of consultations over it, after the new government in Seoul was inaugurated late last month. We need to take time.”
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry denied the official’s comment, saying that the South Korean government would craft “comprehensive measures” regarding the issue through close inter-department consultations after Seoul’s new Foreign Minister designate Yoon Byung-se is inaugurated.
Given U.S. procedures for parliamentary approval, which could take about half a year, the allies should strike an agreement by the first half of this year.
Aiming to complete the “nuclear cycle” for peaceful, civilian purposes, Seoul has sought to revise the pact to be able to reprocess spent fuel and produce low-enriched uranium ― two critical steps for a more efficient use of nuclear energy, which are banned under the current pact.
Seoul has also stressed the need for the revision as tons of nuclear waste has been piling up with storage space running short. Storage capacity for the Kori nuclear power plant is expected to reach its saturation point in 2016.
But Washington has apparently rejected any amendment that could hurt its global non-proliferation initiatives on the grounds that reprocessing could lead to the production of weapons-grade fissile materials.
Seoul apparently wants to take sufficient time to persuade Washington to the amendment as a revision could last for the next few decades. The pact was first signed in 1956 and last revised in 1974.
On top of that, the timing is not good for Seoul for favorable negotiations as U.S. public sentiment has worsened against proliferation issues due to prolonged nuclear standoffs with Pyongyang and Tehran, observers said.
The allies’ talks over the possible extension are expected to take place around when the foreign ministers of the two countries are to meet this or next month ahead of the summit meeting likely to occur in the first half of this year.
Some experts said that Seoul and Washington could extend the current pact until after they finish their joint research on “pyro-processing” ― a recycling method by which plutonium, a key ingredient of nuclear bombs, can not be extracted. The research on its feasibility is to end in 2020.