EURATOM Set to Join KEDO Board; Work at Sinpo Site to Begin


Howard Diamond

THE KOREAN Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) and the European Union (EU) agreed on May 15 to the terms and conditions of the accession to KEDO of EURATOM, the EU's nuclear regulatory body. Following a formal signing of the agreement later this summer, EURATOM will become the first new member of the international consortium's Executive Board since KEDO's founding by the United States, Japan and South Korea in 1995.

KEDO is implementing the 1994 U.S.North Korean Agreed Framework, under which Pyongyang has agreed to freeze and ultimately dismantle its nuclear weapons program. In return, KEDO is overseeing the construction in Sinpo of two 1,000-megawatt (electric) light-water reactors (LWRs) and annual shipments of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil until the first reactor is completed.

The EU's contribution to KEDO of 75 million European Currency Units (about $85 million) over five years will cover roughly one-third of the annual heavy fuel oil cost. In 1996, KEDO was forced to borrow to cover the $66.8 million cost of the year's heavy fuel oil deliveries. The United States has been providing about one-third of the funds for the annual shipments ($22 million in 1996), with the balance coming from other contributing states and from credit facilitated by a collateral fund created by Japan. KEDO has had limited success in soliciting new countries to join or in getting current members to make greater contributions. The expected increase in the EU's contribution from $6.3 million in 1996 to about $18 million after EURATOM's accession, will be key to stabilizing KEDO's finances.

EURATOM's entry into KEDO, which has been under negotiation for over a year, will need to be formally approved by KEDO's Executive Board and the EU Council of Ministers. After the agreement is signed, EURATOM will begin participating on the Executive Board as well as increasing its level of financial support.

Work on the much-delayed LWR project is expected to get under way by mid-July following a May 13 decision by KEDO's Executive Board to start work on the infrastructure necessary for construction, such as roads and temporary offices and housing. The 1995 supply agreement between KEDO and Pyongyang calls for the first LWR to be completed by 2003 on a "best-efforts" basis, however, delays in negotiations with North Korea and disruptive events like the submarine incident of 1996, have put the $5 billion project several months behind schedule.

Most of the necessary arrangements for initiating construction were settled in negotiated protocols or discussions in April (see ACT, April 1997), but some remaining issues will be addressed in a week of talks between KEDO and North Korea beginning May 31. KEDO will send a delegation of 44 representatives from the United States, Japan and South Korea to North Korea to discuss technical issues relating to the start of construction.

In addition to progress on the LWR project, the safe storage of North Korea's plutonium-laden spent fuel is continuing. At the end of May, about 80 percent of the 8,000 fuel elements from the 5-megawatt (electric) gas-graphite reactor in Yongbyon had been "canned" in steel containers in preparation for their eventual shipment out of the country.