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S.Korea did plutonium test in 1980s -- official
Updated: 2004-09-09 12:48

South Korea carried out an experiment using plutonium in the early 1980s and the U.N. nuclear watchdog is investigating, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported on Thursday, quoting a Foreign Ministry official.

Seoul is already seeking to play down the diplomatic impact of an unsanctioned laser enrichment test involving uranium at the state-run Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute amid efforts to restart six-party talks on North Korea's atomic aims.

Yonhap said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was "looking into a plutonium-based nuclear experiment."

"The experiment was done at a now-defunct 'TRIGA-type' research reactor," the news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying. The test took place in a suburb of Seoul before the institute moved to Taejon, south of the capital.

It quoted the official as saying the experiment had been for scientific research.

A ministry spokesman told Reuters: "It was one of the research activities in the early 1980s. The South Korean government has been in talks with the IAEA on the investigation into the issue for several years."

The spokesman did not refer specifically to plutonium. The Science and Technology Ministry planned to brief reporters at 0500 GMT on the latest twist in a story that began last week when South Korea said it had conducted an enrichment test in 2000. On Wednesday, a government official told reporters on condition of anonymity that South Korea should have reported that uranium enrichment test to the IAEA before it was conducted.

South Korea said last week scientists had enriched a trace amount of uranium in three laser tests conducted in January and February 2000.


The official declined to say whether the unauthorized test conducted by government scientists violated the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the main legal pact aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons.

South Korea will make a pitch to the IAEA governors next week to help ensure the nuclear agency reaches a conclusion "that matches the facts and is balanced," Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday.

The experiments at the government nuclear research laboratory enriched 0.2 grams of uranium. Western diplomats in Vienna have said the level of enrichment accomplished was close to weapons grade, but South Korea's top nuclear scientist, Chang In-soon, told Reuters on Wednesday that was speculation.

The government has rejected suggestions by diplomats that North Korea could use the news to dodge talks aimed at ending its own nuclear programs, including a suspected enrichment scheme.

North Korea, in its first comment on the development, said the uranium experiment was a "dangerous movement" that could trigger a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia.

"We view South Korea's uranium enrichment program in the context of an arms race in Northeast Asia," Yonhap quoted Han Song-ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the United Nations, as saying in an interview in New York on Wednesday.

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