South Korea, US agree to revised civil nuclear cooperation deal

ByYoukyung Lee, AP Business Writer

South Korean Ambassador for Nuclear Energy Cooperation Park Ro-byug, right, exchanges documents with U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert during a signing ceremony for their nuclear agreement at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea Wednesday, April 22, 2015. Seoul says it has concluded talks with Washington to revise the 41-year-old treaty that governs the country's commercial nuclear activities. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea said Wednesday it reached agreement with Washington on revisions to the 41-year-old treaty that governs the country's commercial nuclear activities.

Ambassador for nuclear energy cooperation Park Ro-byug said the deal would pave the way for South Korea to better manage spent nuclear fuel and improve nuclear exports.

The revised treaty sets the terms that will govern South Korea's management of spent nuclear fuel for the next 20 years. It needs approval from legislatures in both countries.

South Korea is still not allowed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel using U.S.-originated nuclear materials without prior consent.

South Korea wants the ability to enrich uranium, a process it must undergo to become a viable nuclear fuel, to reduce import costs and to aid its reactor exports. The U.S. restricts those activities because uranium enrichment technology can be used to produce nuclear weapons and it also fears that backing South Korea's enrichment ambitions may provoke already belligerent North Korea.

But the revised deal gives more leeway to South Korea in research activities and data collection related to spent fuel.

Seoul and Washington also agreed to establish a high-level committee to discuss uranium enrichment for nuclear power generation, the key sticking point during the five-year negotiations.

Seoul officials said the establishment of the committee was a step toward securing consent for uranium enrichment.

The current treaty, which took effect in 1974 when South Korea's nascent nuclear power industry was highly dependent on the U.S. technologies, expires early next year.

Seoul and Washington began talks in 2010 to upgrade the terms to better reflect the growth in South Korea's nuclear industry. The Asian country has become a major exporter of nuclear power reactors. It also generates about one third of its energy from nuclear power.

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