South Korea’s nuclear energy industry has for decades been facilitated through close cooperation with counterparts in the United States under what is known as a “123 Agreement”. Today South Korea’s nuclear power program supplies roughly one third of the nation’s electricity and the country has begun a concerted effort to break into the nuclear export market. But as South Korea’s nuclear power industry and infrastructure has grown, so too has its desire for peaceful nuclear sovereignty, something that would entail their acquisition of domestic reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.
A problem arises from the fact that the current U.S. – South Korea nuclear cooperation agreement limits Seoul’s capacity to acquire the sensitive nuclear technologies required for both reprocessing and uranium enrichment. However, because that treaty expires on March 19 2014, Korean policy makers are currently negotiating with American counterparts to change the terms of agreement.
To date, the U.S. has opposed South Korea’s requests on the grounds of general non-proliferation policy and the complications that such activities might pose for other security issues on the Korean peninsula. On the other hand, South Korea needs to find a solution to its nuclear waste problem, and hopes to join the ranks of U.S. allies like Japan and India trusted with enrichment and reprocessing technologies.
With scope for potential disagreement, the two parties are running out of time to find a mutually satisfactory solution to the dilemma, and even after any updated 123 agreement is filed, it must sit before congress for 90 days, with time reserved for any complications which may arise during the review process.
As debates continue to swirl about the future of U.S. – South Korea nuclear cooperation we invite you to join us for a special podcast that looks at the issue from a number of angles. Panelists include:
- Mr. Gordon Flake, Mansfield Foundation (Washington, DC)
- Mr. Mark Fitzpatrick, International Institute for Strategic Studies (London)
- Mr. Mark Holt, Congressional Research Service (Washington, DC)
- Prof. Seongho Sheen, Seoul National University (Seoul, ROK)