South Korea and the United States resumed talks Tuesday on revising a bilateral pact that defines the boundaries of the Asian country’s use of nuclear energy, with Seoul aiming to gain concessions in the area, officials said.
The discussions in Seoul were led by Park Ro-byug, South Korea’s envoy for the talks and a former ambassador to Ukraine, and Robert Einhorn, the U.S. State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control.
The two sides were holding their fourth round of talks on revising the pact, which was signed in 1974 and due to expire in 2014.
“The talks will aim to revise the agreement from being one-sided and dependent to being equal-footed and mutually beneficial,” Park told Yonhap news agency by phone.
The current pact is largely aimed at making sure that South Korea’s use of nuclear power poses no proliferation risks. It bans the country from reprocessing spent fuel because it could yield plutonium, a key ingredient in building atomic bombs.
South Korea wants the U.S. to allow it to use a reprocessing technology known as pyroprocessing, which is considered less conducive to proliferation as it leaves separated plutonium mixed with other elements.
The country produces nearly 40 percent of its electricity from 20 nuclear reactors, and its storage facilities for spent fuel are expected to reach capacity in 2016.
South Korea and the U.S. have already launched a 10-year joint research program into pyroprocessing.
But nonproliferation advocates say the technology is not much different from reprocessing and claim that South Korea’s reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel might undermine global nonproliferation efforts and provoke North Korea and Japan.
Einhorn told a press conference in Seoul Monday that South Korea and the U.S. were “working very cooperatively together” to achieve a “successor agreement that will expand the level of cooperation between (the countries) in the civil nuclear energy area.”
He also said the new agreement should reflect South Korea’s growing role in the global civil nuclear sector, apparently referring to the country’s recent efforts to become a top exporter of nuclear power plants.