KEDO Reactor Project Moves Through Protocols Toward Implementation

Howard Diamond

FOLLOWING AN April 9-15 trip to North Korea by an "expertlevel" delegation, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) intends to begin sitepreparation work for the lightwater reactor (LWR) project at the Sinpo site in North Korea by late spring or early summer 1997.

KEDO is the international consortium formed to implement key elements of the 1994 U.S.North Korean agreed framework, under which Pyongyang has frozen its nuclear program in exchange for the construction of two LWRs and shipments of heavy fuel oil. North Korea has been receiving annual shipments of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil while their nuclear complex in Yongbyon remains shut down under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring. To date, more than 75 percent of the spent fuel from North Korea's plutoniumproducing, 5megawatt (electric) gasgraphite reactor has been packaged, or "canned," for shipment out of North Korea, as required by the agreed framework.

The expertlevel delegation, which included 54 representatives from the KEDO secretariat and the governments of the United States, Japan and South Korea, held talks with North Korea in Majon and in Sinpo. The talks focused on detailed implementation of the five preconstruction protocols that have been negotiated between KEDO and Pyongyang since completion of the December 1995 supply agreement.

The supply agreement established the scope and terms for KEDO to provide North Korea with the two LWRs, but required negotiation of five additional protocols before KEDO could start work in North Korea. The protocols concern the legal status of KEDO personnel, communications, transportation, control of the project site and contracting within North Korea. A KEDO official said the meetings focused on gaining shared understandings of how the protocols would be implemented "on the ground." According to the official, most issues have been worked out, but some technical details still remain. The group also established a new precedent, traveling to North Korea directly by ship from South Korea, rather than flying in from a third country.

Additionally, KEDO's seventh sight survey team at Sinpo is expected to complete its fivemonth investigation in August 1997. The team of about 30 scientists and engineers has been in North Korea since March 1, and is performing the final indepth geological investigations and surveys of the site boundaries.

Negotiations of an additional protocol dealing with the issue of nonpayment began in New York on March 18, and are expected to be concluded by the first week of May. The new protocol will clarify the means of redress available to KEDO in the event of failure by Pyongyang to repay the costs of the LWR project.

While the LWR project moves forward, it appears that KEDO will be completing the project with a new chief executive. Ambassador Stephen L. Bosworth, who has been KEDO's executive director since July 19, 1995, is reportedly the frontrunner to be appointed as the next U.S. ambassador to Seoul. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul has been without an ambassador since December 31, 1996, when Ambassador James T. Laney stepped down.