US-Korea 123 extension is passed

19 September 2013

The approval of a two-year extension to a cooperation text between the USA and South Korea could enable the countries to conclude a mutually beneficial successor agreement for the long term, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).

The short-term extension to the countries' cooperation agreement was unanimously approved yesterday by the US House of Representatives with 407 members voting in favour, 25 members not voting and no-one voting against. Approval by the US Senate is also required before the current agreement expires in March 2014.

Bilateral pacts known as 123 Agreements are a prerequisite under US law for it to participate in nuclear cooperation with other countries. Renegotiations have been hampered by South Korean interest in the possibility of setting up domestic uranium enrichment facilities and also in reprocessing its accumulating inventory of used nuclear fuel. South Korea is banned from both activities under the existing agreement.

NEI vice president Richard Myers said the extension would provide a window of opportunity to finalise a new long-term agreement meeting the needs of both countries without disrupting the existing successful civil nuclear trade between them. "Given the industry's reliance on long-lead items and long-term contracts for nuclear components, fuel and services, prompt extension of the agreement is vital to avoid trade disruptions that would negatively affect thousands of US jobs and billions of dollars in exports," he said.

As well as operating 23 reactors at home, South Korea is itself a nuclear exporter currently building the first power reactors in the United Arab Emirates. It is also a supplier of heavy components for nuclear power plants under construction in China and the USA. However, the South Korean government has described the fuel cycle constraints under the current agreement, negotiated in the early 1970s, as 'excessive' and is pushing for them to be eased.

Earlier this year, a group of US business associations including the NEI expressed misgivings over US failures to conclude bilateral trade agreements in a timely manner, which they said put US companies at a disadvantage against other suppliers as well as potentially weakening US influence on global nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation issues. They called on the US administration to expedite cooperation agreements and to take a pragmatic approach to issues such as reprocessing and enrichment.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News