South Korea and the United States have brought into force a two-year interim extension of the their agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation, the State Department said in a March 18 press release.
President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced last year that they had agreed on a two-year extension of the pact. (See ACT, May 2013.) The two sides are negotiating a longer-term agreement, but have not been able to resolve key issues, notably South Korea’s interest in treating spent fuel through a technique called pyroprocessing.
The United States has said it considers pyroprocessing to be a type of spent fuel reprocessing, and therefore a proliferation concern. But Seoul argues that pyroprocessing is more proliferation resistant than conventional reprocessing because in pyroprocessing, the plutonium separated from the spent fuel is mixed with other elements.
South Korea also says it needs to develop a domestic capacity to enrich uranium.
The 1974 U.S.-South Korean agreement was to expire last month. Congress cleared the way for the two-year extension in January.
The legislation approving the extension includes a number of findings. One of them states that “North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, including uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies, undermine security on the Korean peninsula” and that South Korea and the United States “have a shared interest in preventing further proliferation.”