UN agency sends team to probe uranium enrichment in Republic of Korea

3 September 2004

The United Nations atomic watchdog agency has sent an inspection team to the Republic of Korea (ROK) to investigate the production of a tiny amount of enriched uranium that the Government in Seoul claims was carried out without its knowledge.

If produced in sufficient quantities enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.

The team, headed by the Director of the Safeguards Operations Division responsible for the ROK, will report to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei on its return to agency headquarters in Vienna early next week. Mr. ElBaradei in turn will inform the IAEA Board of Governors of the initial findings at its next meeting beginning on 13 September.

ROK is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The Seoul Government informed the IAEA last month of the production four years ago of just milligram quantities of enriched uranium during vapour laser isotope separation experiments.

"According to the Republic of Korea, these activities were carried out without the Government's knowledge at a nuclear site in Korea in 2000, and that the activities had been terminated," the Agency said.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), ROK's northern neighbour, withdrew from the NPT nearly two years ago and the IAEA has been unable to draw any conclusions about Pyongyang's nuclear activities since then. Mr. ElBaradei has called DPRK's withdrawal a dangerous precedent threatening the credibility of the non-proliferation regime.