S Korea-US-nuclear accord

SEOUL, March 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to form a pan-government task force for bilateral negotiations with the United States, a senior official said Thursday, as it seeks to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

Revising a civilian nuclear agreement, which expires next year, is a key pending bilateral agenda for South Korean President Park Geun-hye and for the second-term administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Little progress has been made in bilateral talks to revise a 1974 accord, which bans South Korea from enriching uranium or reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, since 2010 .

The foreign ministry has been in consultations with relevant ministries to expand its negotiating team, the senior ministry official said.

"There is the need for personnel cooperation between the foreign ministry and other ministries. So, we are planning to temporarily set up a pan-government negotiating team," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

In his confirmation hearing late last month, foreign minister Yun Byung-se said South Korea "wants to have an in-depth consultation with the U.S. to make progress" in the negotiations this year.

However, time is running out. For a revised accord to be approved by the U.S. Congress, both sides must conclude negotiations by June of this year, ministry officials said.

South Korea, a major nuclear energy developer, wants the U.S. to allow it to adopt proliferation-resistant technology for enriching uranium and reprocessing spent atomic fuel from its 22 nuclear power plants, but Washington has been reluctant to do so.

In the face of growing nuclear waste stockpiles and its ambition to become a global power in the civilian nuclear industry, South Korea hopes to adopt the so-called pyroprocessing technology, which leaves separated plutonium, the main ingredient in making atomic bombs, mixed with other elements.

South Korea wants the U.S. to allow it to use the new technology because it has to deal with more than 10,000 tons of nuclear waste at storage facilities that are expected to reach capacity by 2016.

Some nonproliferation experts say pyroprocessing is not significantly different from reprocessing, and the plutonium could be quickly turned into weapons-grade material.

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