Find a Security Clearance Job!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


South Korea Special Weapons

Nuclear Weapons

South Korea began a nuclear weapons program in 1970, in response to the Nixon Doctrine's emphasis on self-defense for Asian allies. Following the withdrawal of 26,000 American troops, the South Korean government established a Weapons Exploitation Committee, which decided to pursue nuclear weapons. By 1975 the US had pressured France into not delivering a reprocessing facility, effectiely ending attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Under pressure from the United States, Korea ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on 23 April 1975. Although President Park Chung-Hee said in 1977 that South Korea would not develop nuclear weapons, he continued a clandestine program that only ended with his assassination in October 1979.

South Korea may have had plans in the 1980s to develop nuclear weapons to deter an attack by the North. The plans were reported to have been dropped under US pressure. However, the reports seem to have emanated in the form of hearsay from a South Korean opposition legislator, with no confirmation from US or South Korean officials, or independent sources. The United States remained concerned, as indicated by the "special" inspections that the US conducts at the center of Seoul's nuclear research, the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) located at Daeduk, near the city of Taejon. The United States maintains a ban on plutonium being supplied to the South Korea.

Nuclear Safeguards

In connection with the NPT, the Safeguards Agreement between Korea and the IAEA has been in force since 14 November 1975. In 1975, only 2 nuclear facilities, TRIGA II and III research reactors, were under IAEA safeguards. However, because of the active nuclear power program in Korea, 33 facilities are now under IAEA safeguards.

As an active measure to maintain the increase use of nuclear material and facilities, a national inspection system was introduced to respond to all international obligations and to ensure international transparency and credibility of nuclear activities in Korea.

The Technology Center for Nuclear Control (TCNC) was established at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute in 1994 to develop safeguards technology and to provide technical assistance to the Government. In 1996, MOST authorized TCNC at KAERI as the technical assistant agency for national safeguards implementation.

In addition, each nuclear facility or installation has designated a person in charge of safeguards, which was strongly recommended by the Government to strengthen the State's System of Accounting for and Control of nuclear material (SSAC). Even though the Government is at the top and the center of the Korean SSAC in terms of hierarchy, it is the close cooperation amongest organizations and institutions that has made safeguards implementation succeed in Korea.

National inspection were performed for 7 facilities in 1997 on a trial basis and were carried out for 13 facilities in 1998 as an intermediate step before full implementation. During these periods, necessary elements such as inspection criteria and procedures, inspection equipment, and inspection information management system were developed for full scope national inspection.

In 2001, the full scope national inspection was performed for 33 facilities. Although the national inspection system in Korea needs to be further developed, its benefit is already foreseen. Advanced inspection equipment have been developed for efficient and effective inspection both for the IAEA and Korea. Since 1999, Korea has accomplished 95% of the IAEA safeguards inspection goal attainment. In October 2001, Korea and the IAEA signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the implementation of enhanced cooperation for light water reactors.

As of October 2002, a total of 17 nuclear power units were in operation, and three units are under construction. A further eight units are to be constructed from 2003. Korea has around 15 GW of nuclear power capacity, which accounts for 28.0% of its total electric power capacity. To enhance the safety and to cut the costs of nuclear power plants, Korea has developed an advanced power reactor with a capacity of 1,400MWe, called APR1400, on the basis of technological self-reliance of the 1,000MWe Korea Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP) in 1995. Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company(KHNP), the sole consumer of nuclear fuel in Korea, has a basic guideline to ensure the nuclear fuel supply and to pursues the economic efficiency at the same time by applying an international open bid.

Nuclear Enrichment

South Korea admitted to embarrassment but not to wrongdoing as international inspectors investigated the secret enrichment of uranium at government-run nuclear facilities. The government said it was fully cooperating with a team of inspectors from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that departed after concluding a week-long inspection. Revelations that scientists in South Korea had engaged in clandestine uranium enrichment in 2000, albeit in microscopic quantities, emerged at a time when Seoul was playing a leading role in efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons drive.

These experiments were done by a small group of scientists for research purposes on a laboratory scale and without the knowledge or authorization of the government of the Republic of Korea. The head of the research institute admitted that the uranium enrichment experiment by South Korean government scientists was conducted three times in 2000 with his approval. And the government of the Republic of Korea did not have an enrichment or reprocessing program at all, and do not have and will not have that enrichment or reprocessing facilities.

One of these conversion activities, which took place at three facilities that had not been declared to the Agency, involved the production of about 150 kilograms of natural uranium metal, a small amount of which, according to the ROK, was later used in the AVLIS experiments. The ROK authorities have pointed out that the uranium enrichment experiments took place in the context of a broader experimental effort to apply AVLIS techniques to a wide range of stable isotopes. According to the ROK, only about 200 milligrams of enriched uranium were produced.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited three previously undeclared facilities in South Korea. The inspection team visited another facility for which the results of environmental samples had revealed the presence of slightly irradiated depleted uranium with associated plutonium. The ROK authorities informed the Agency that, in the early 1980s, a laboratory scale experiment had been performed at this facility to irradiate 2.5 kilograms of depleted uranium and separate a small amount of plutonium.

News of the experiment prompted nervous reaction from Japan.

The Korean government will take measures to avoid a recurrence of this issue by creating a national center for controlling nuclear material, and educating scientists to remind them of their safeguard obligation; and safeguard agreements mean that even minute amounts of nuclear material must be reported to the IAEA.

Nuclear Reprocessing

South Korean scientists extracted plutonium in 1982 without reporting it. A week after admitting government scientists enriched uranium in a clandestine experiment four years earlier, South Korea revealed it also engaged in plutonium research more than 20 years ago. South Korean officials confirmed that several milligrams of plutonium were extracted in a 1982 experiment at the country's nuclear energy research institute. South Korean diplomats insisted the experiments were extremely limited and conducted purely for scientific research.

Under the NPT, South Korea is allowed to conduct experiments with nuclear material. But all such experiments have to be reported to the IAEA so it can verify that none of the material involved is being used for military purposes. So the experiments themselves are not illegal. But carrying them out without declaring them to the appropriate international agency is illegal.

South Korea started the initial stages of a clandestine nuclear weapons program during the early 1980s, when the future of its security relationship with the United States was in doubt. That was after Washington announced possible plans to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea: "The United States learned of this nuclear activity and through political pressure and persuasion was able to end the program at a very early stage.

After the end of its nuclear weapon program, by the late 1980s South Korea retained interest in reprocessing spent fuel from its civilian nuclear power program, hoping that plutonium recycling would reduce dependence on imported uranium. The United States consistently opposed South Korean reprocessing initiatives, citing weapons proliferation concerns.

British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) had sought to obtain reprocessing contracts with South Korea, similar to the arrangements in place with Japan. An export licence was granted on 11 November 1997 for the export of up to 50kg of recycled low enriched uranium powder to the Republic of Korea for research and development on nuclear fuel. A shipment of 43.7kg of nuclear fuel containing reprocessed uranium was exported under this licence by BNFL to South Korea for use in the Hanaro research reactor at Daeduk in 1998.

In November 2004, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported, in a confidential report, that quantities of nuclear material produced over a 20-year period by South Korea as part of nuclear experiments were not significant by that the activities and the failure by South Korea to declare them were, however.




NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list