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South Korea happy with IAEA report on past N-experiments

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea said Friday it was satisfied with a UN atomic energy agency report which showed that unauthorised nuclear experiments by government scientists went further than previously thought.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report showed that South Korean scientists conducted more secret nuclear experiments and on a wider scale than had previously been declared.
But Song Young-Wan, a senior foreign ministry official dealing with the IAEA, said the document spoke nowhere of non-compliance on the part of Seoul with its international arms control obligations.
“The report does not talk about violations, it talks about reporting failures,” he said. “Our initial response is that all-in-all we are satisfied with an impartial and objective report.”
The report, sent to the agency’s 35-member board of governors, confirmed previous reports that South Korean scientists produced small amounts of plutonium in 1982 and enriched uranium in 2000 without informing the nuclear watchdog.
It newly disclosed, however, that some of the uranium was enriched up to the 77 percent level, considered very high and close to weapons grade.
It also disclosed that South Korea carried out “at least 10” laser enrichment related experiments between 1993 and 2000. Previously, South Korea had spoken of only three such experiments. “The enrichment level just confirms what we told the IAEA,” said Song. “We did not want to make that public before. As to the number of experiments, we are looking into that. It may be a misunderstanding.” 
According to the report, South Korean scientists conducted previously unreported experiments in enriching uranium chemically in 1979-1981.
It ran counter to Seoul’s earlier claims that scientists secretly separated plutonium in 1982.
South Korea admitted in September that scientists working without government approval and to satisfy their own professional curiosity produced only 0.2 grams of enriched uranium during three experiments using “laser isotope separation technology” in 2000.
But South Korean officials insisted the report confirmed South Korea was not involved in any weapons-grade nuclear activity.
“The report mentioned South Korea’s failure to report nuclear experiments ... but did not say (South Korea) failed to comply with nuclear safeguard agreements,” the Ministry of Science and Technology said in a statement.
It did not contain “any concrete evidence linking our research to any weapons program,” a ministry official told AFP.
The IAEA report said South Korea’s failure to report the experiments as required under agreements with the IAEA was “a matter of serious concern.”
The report, however, acknowledged that the experiments were “laboratory-scale” and the amounts of nuclear material produced “relatively small.”
Kang Jungmin, a nuclear weapons analyst in Seoul, said the report was not very damaging given the small amount of material involved.
“The important thing to recognise is that there clearly was no clandestine national nuclear weapons program. The report makes that obvious,” he said.
South Korea has staged a diplomatic drive to allay global concern about its nuclear experiments ahead of the IAEA board meeting on November 25 on whether to refer the case to the UN Security Council.
North Korea, citing concern about Seoul’s nuclear experiments among other issues, has refused to attend a proposed new round of multilateral talks on ending its own atomic weapons drive.
But IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has denied any parallels between the two Koreas.
South Korea has the world’s sixth-largest civilian nuclear industry, operating 19 power plants that produce 40 percent of its energy needs.
It abandoned any nuclear ambitions in the 1970s after Washington persuaded then-military dictator Park Chung-Hee to give up his clandestine nuclear weapons program.

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