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Nuclear mixed signals

North Korea announces it is successfully enriching uranium, but says it is not opposed to denuclearization. South Korea's first rocket launch fails to put a satellite into orbit. Free trade talks with Australia continue. Income in Q2 grows by the fastest rate since 1998. Hyundai innovates to cut air pollution. Both Hyundai and PASCO raise their steel prices. And South Korea's soaring suicide rate makes it the world's worst.

Top News: North Korea announced it is in the final stages of successfully enriching uranium, material that can be used to create nuclear weapons, and that it is in the process of weaponizing plutonium extracted from spent fuel rods. Pyongyang said it is not opposed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in a statement made through the North's state-run KCNA, but that it is against the six-party talks, which it said infringes on its autonomy and rights for peaceful development.


The news came as a surprise as the country had in the recent weeks shown more conciliatory moves towards the outside world including releasing four South Korean fishermen who had been detained in the country after their boat had mistakenly crossed over into North Korean waters a month ago. South Korea had repeatedly demanded the swift release of the fishermen who strayed into the North’s waters due to a faulty GPS system. However, Pyongyang showed no immediate response until recently when it carried out a number of forthcoming moves such as agreeing to reopen commercial cross-border traffic and to a meeting for families separated by the Korean War.


South Korea launched its first space rocket in the midst of nation-wide excitement and hopefulness, but failed to put its satellite into orbit. Officials called the first launch a partial success, referring to the lift-off, and said they are planning on a second launch next year. The rocket, called Naro-1, relied heavily on Russian technology and cost roughly $400 million to build. If the satellite had entered its orbit successfully, it would have been used to measure the Earth’s radiant energy.


Money: South Korea held its second round of free trade talks with Australia, its eighth largest trading partner, and exchanged views on tariff concessions and bilateral investment. Seoul had delayed trade talks in the past out of concern that a free trade agreement with Australia would further increase imports that are worth more than three times Korea’s exports to the country. South Koreans mainly export cars, electronics and auto car parts to Australia while importing beef, iron ore and other raw materials. In 2008, Korea imported roughly $18 billion from Australia, while exporting only $5.2 billion.


South Korea’s gross national income grew by 5.6 percent in the second quarter of this year, the largest increase since 1998, according to the country’s central bank. The growth was due to an improvement in the relative price of exports to imports, mostly from a stronger won, and as net factor income, such as dividends and interest earned overseas from Koreans, increased.


South Korea’s second-largest steel maker, Hyundai Steel, revealed the world’s first dust-free storage system at its Dangjin steel mill complex. This will prevent air pollution from particles that escape raw materials during storage and transportation. In the past, materials such as coal and iron ore had to be sprayed with chemicals or covered up to reduce pollutants from escaping into the air. The new air-tight facility will seal those particles in an enclosed space.


The company raised its steel prices for the first time this year by a near 7 percent, citing rising costs of raw material and global steel prices as its reasons. The move prompted speculation that the global steel industry may have passed its worst, and Hyundai’s rival and the world’s no. 6 steelmaker, POSCO, also announced it raised prices on its stainless steel by 13 percent in September.


Elsewhere: South Korea is expected to have the highest suicide rate among advanced countries with roughly 35 people taking their lives each day, according to the National Statistical Office. Suicide is now the fourth leading cause of death in the country and the top cause last year for people in their 20’s and 30’s. The suicide rate has seen a sharp rise over the past couple of years, and many attribute the increase to the suicide deaths of a number of public figures, including one of the country’s top actresses and former president Roh Moo-hyun.