An international consortium yesterday announced the termination of a technically defunct nuclear reactor project in North Korea.
The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization said it will also seek compensation from Pyongyang for the dissolution of the costly light-water reactor project in Geumpo.
“KEDO requires payment from the DPRK for financial losses in connection with the light-water reactor project, and any issues between KEDO and the DPRK in this regard should be settled in accordance with KEDO’s agreement with the DPRK,” the statement said. DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.
South Korea, the United States, Japan and the European Union created KEDO in 1994 after an agreement between Washington and Pyongyang to build a light-water reactor in the energy-stricken state in return for the North’s suspension of any nuclear activities. The construction began in Aug. 1997.
But the project was halted in 2002 when the United States accused North Korea of a clandestine nuclear weapons program using uranium.
The participating countries, most of which now belong to the current six-party talks, agreed last year that the KEDO project was defunct.
All the materials that were being built outside North Korea for the reactor will be handed over to South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corporation, the main contractor for the project.
The materials, including a nuclear reactor, turbine generator and other supporting tools, are reportedly worth 830 million won.
KEPCO will in turn bear some 150 million to 200 million won in compensation that must be given out to other smaller contractors involved with the project, the Unification Ministry here said.
KEPCO will also be liberated from any other legal or political responsibilities that could follow the termination of KEDO by bearing the compensation costs, it said.
North Korea, in the meantime, will be required to return all the other assets related to the light-water reactor.
The entire termination will likely take about a year, the ministry said.
South Korea has been taking the initiative in the $1.56 billion project. Seoul put up nearly $1.14 billion, while Japan provided $407 million and the EU $18 million. The United States was in charge of providing heavy fuel oil.
All the South Korean and American workers who were staying in the construction site for maintenance returned home in January this year.
After the invalidation of the 1994 agreement between Washington and Pyongyang, multilateral negotiations convened in 2003 under Chinese mediation.
After years of deadlock, the six nations finally agreed on the joint statement of principles last September.
Based on the new agreement, five of the six members are to give unspecified aid to the North in return for a complete dismantlement of nuclear programs.
The implementation of the agreement, however, faces many hurdles as North Korea has since refused to join the next round of negotiations, citing the United States’ hostile policies.
Joong Ang Daily
The death knell sounded on Wednesday in New York for a once-ambitious project to build two nuclear power plants in North Korea.
The board of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization officially abandoned the project, citing a lack of cooperation by North Korea.
A statement from the organization complained of a “continued and extended failure” by Pyongyang to cooperate in international efforts to end its nuclear weapons programs.
In Seoul, a Unification Ministry official said that the board of the organization, an international consortium overseen by the governments of Korea, Japan, the United States and the European Union, had also agreed to formulas on how to liquidate the assets of the organization. Because Seoul committed to shoulder the bulk of the costs of the nuclear power project, its termination, government officials fear, could leave it open to criticism for a waste of taxpayer money.
To try to head off that criticism, the ministry official emphasized that even though Korea would shoulder the remaining outstanding costs of winding up the project, it would also take title to all the equipment that had been manufactured for the project but not yet shipped to the North. He said the value of that equipment was estimated at about $800 million. In total, he added, the Korean government has paid $1.1 billion of the $1.5 billion that has been spent on the project throughout its life; its remaining obligation in wind-up costs, he said, would be about $200 million.
The project was conceived in 1994 as an effort to cool tensions between the United States and North Korea over the latter’s nuclear programs, which Washington believed were focused on developing nuclear weapons. Pyongyang agreed to freeze those programs in return for two power reactors and a supply of fuel oil that would continue until the reactors came on line. The agreement began to unravel in late 2002, when Washington accused Pyongyang of secretly developing a nuclear weapons program using uranium.Work on the project was suspended in November 2003, and North Korea ordered a KEDO caretaker force out of the site last January.
A bid by Seoul to divide the termination costs among other KEDO members apparently failed. Seoul had tried to keep the project alive for as long as possible in hopes that the infrastructure at the nuclear site could be used in some sort of new arrangements with North Korea.
The statement by the KEDO board also reportedly demanded – certainly without any expectation of success – that North Korea compensate the organization for its financial losses.
As the KEDO nuclear project shriveled, a new effort to strip North Korea of its nuclear weapons emerged, the “six-party talks” among the Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, to try to find a formula to end the North’s nuclear ambitions. Those talks have also floundered. Yesterday, Pyongyang invited Christopher Hill, the U.S. negotiator at those talks, to visit Pyongyang to discuss efforts to revive them, saying his visit would be a sign of Washington’s political will to implement an agreement in principle last September that Pyongyang would abandon its nuclear efforts in return for development aid and diplomatic recognition.
A senior Korean official said he doubted Mr. Hill would go, adding that Pyongyang would have to make some sort of gesture of its serious intent in order to tempt Washington into agreeing to such bilateral contacts.