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Seoul Mayor Warns Against U.S. Nukes in South Korea
The mayor of Seoul on Tuesday said that returning short-range U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea could provide North Korea with a justification for building up its own nuclear arsenal, the Yonhap News Agency reported (see GSN, March 30).
In the wake of Pyongyang's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests and two incidents last year that killed 50 South Koreans, some South Korean lawmakers have stepped up calls for bringing U.S. tactical systems back to their nation.
The United States withdrew its tactical nuclear arms from the South in 1991. The Obama administration has said it continues to support a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula and that new deployments of short-range systems to South Korea were not being considered.
"Behind calls for redeploying tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, I think there are hidden intentions to provoke North Korea and China to revitalize the six-party talks" Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said in a speech at Harvard University.
The stalled multinational talks aimed at North Korean denuclearization involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States (see related GSN story, today). They were last held in December 2008. Beijing and Pyongyang have called for their speedy resumption, but not under terms that Seoul, Tokyo and Washington favor -- North Korea's acknowledgment of its actions and proof of its nuclear disarmament intentions.
"Deploying tactical nuclear weapons would not only provide North Korea a rationale to legitimately develop nuclear weapons but also provoke Japan, making Northeast Asia a nuclear powder keg of the world," Oh stated. "It is practically, theoretically impossible and inappropriate."
Oh is judged a likely candidate for the South Korean presidency (Yonhap News Agency, April 19).
Separately, Seoul continues to hope the United States will permit it to use pyroprocessing in its civilian atomic sector, despite fears the experimental nuclear fuel reprocessing technology could be exploited to generate weapon-usable material, the Korea Times reported on Monday (see GSN, April 5).
Seoul is prohibited under its current nuclear trade agreement with Washington from reprocessing nuclear waste -- a technique that can produce weapon-ready plutonium. The existing pact expires in 2014, and talks are under way on a replacement accord.
The United States and South Korea have agreed over the next decade to jointly study fuel reprocessing.
"During the first stage, the two countries will delve into the technical feasibility and commercial viability of pyroprocessing by building laboratory-level facilities," a South Korean Education, Science and Technology Ministry official said.
"Another issue is whether it would undermine nonproliferation efforts. We want to see encouraging results so that Korea will be allowed to use pyroprocessing in the new Korea-U.S. agreement," the official said.
South Korea has generated more than 10,000 tons of nuclear waste that is held in temporary storage. The country is approaching its storage limits for the material (Kim Tae-gyu, Korea Times, April 18).
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