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New Analysis in Arms Control Today Calls South Korean Reprocessing an “Unnecessary Threat”

For Immediate Release: March 18, 2010

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association (202-463-8270 ext. 107)

(Washington, D.C.) South Korea is seeking U.S. approval to reprocess, or separate, its used nuclear reactor fuel, which would have critical implications for global efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, according to a new article in Arms Control Today, the journal of the Arms Control Association.

In the March issue of ACT, Frank von Hippel, a former official in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, finds that “South Korea’s government-supported Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) has launched a campaign to try to convince the Obama administration” to agree to its proposal on “pyroprocessing” in South Korea, which would make weapons-usable plutonium much more accessible, and that the administration has agreed to study the proposal.

“If the U.S. government and nonproliferation community accept South Korea’s need to reprocess…it will become difficult to resist the same demand from additional countries. South Africa, for example, also has expressed an interest in reprocessing,” von Hippel finds.  South Korea would be only the second non-nuclear-weapon state, after Japan, to reprocess its spent power-reactor fuel.

Over the years, the United States has generally sought to restrict the spread and use of reprocessing technology.  The U.S.-South Korean agreement for nuclear cooperation (which expires in 2014) requires U.S. consent for reprocessing of U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel.

South Korea’s proposal, in addition to being a proliferation threat, “simply amounts to a costly and dangerous political contrivance to get spent fuel off [its] reactor sites.  The political problem of ultimate radioactive waste disposal would still remain,” von Hippel finds.


“What is needed especially is multinational cooperation in the sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle that are required by current-generation reactors operating on a once-through fuel cycle, namely uranium enrichment and spent fuel repositories,” von Hippel concludes.

The full article is available online at

http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2010_03/VonHippel