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IAEA to send second inspection team to South Korea
Updated: 2004-09-16 09:22

A five-member inspection team of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will arrive in Seoul Sunday for a six-day investigation over South Korea's nuclear material experiments, Yonhap News Agency reported on Wednesday.

The IAEA team will inspect facilities in the state-run (South) Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute in Daejeon city and its research center in northern Seoul.

IAEA officials stayed in South Korea from August 29 to September 5 to probe into two experiments conducted by South Korean scientists many years ago.

Seoul admitted earlier this month that several scientists extracted small amount of plutonium in 1982 and separated 0.2 gram of uranium in 2000.

Tests on plutonium and enriched uranium are strictly monitored by the UN nuclear watchdog as they are two key ingredients of nuclear weapons.

IAEA Chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Monday that South Korea produced 153 kilograms of uranium metal in 1982 at one of three nuclear facilities undeclared to the watchdog. He also expressed "serious concern" over the experiments.

South Korea is reportedly storing 134 kilograms of uranium metal in Daejeon, 164 km south of Seoul, after using some 3.4 kilograms for the 2000 experiments. That means 15.6 kilograms of uranium metal remain unaccounted for.

Yonhap quoted analysts as saying that the second IAEA inspection team's main target is the 15.6-kg uranium metal.

Seoul claimed that it produced the uranium metal as part of efforts to localize nuclear fuel amid skyrocketing international prices of natural uranium then.

The nuclear power generation accounts for some 45 percent of the country's total energy resources.

"It was nothing more than pure research work," Cho Chung-won, director-general of the Science and Technology Ministry was quotedby Yonhap as saying. "We extracted 800 kilograms of natural uranium from phosphoric ore, and used most of them as nuclear fuel for the Wolsong nuclear power plant."

"We produced uranium metal by transforming the remnants," he added. "Some 15 kilograms of uranium metal were lost in the courseof experiments. The failure to report the work to the IAEA was just a mistake."

Seoul repeatedly claimed that those experiments were conducted by some scientists for academic purposes, and that the government was not aware of them in advance.

The IAEA chief planned to report the results of the inspections to a meeting of the agency's board of directors in November.

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