SEOUL -- Two cases of past scientific experiments involving nuclear materials in my country, the Republic of Korea, have recently received world attention. The matters are being dealt with by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the full cooperation of my government. Meanwhile, regrettably, there seems to be widespread misunderstanding and speculation about the transparency of South Korea's peaceful nuclear activities.
We need to look at these issues in perspective. The Republic of Korea has the sixth-largest civilian nuclear industry in the world, with 19 nuclear power plants in operation. Most other countries with our level of demand for nuclear energy produce nuclear fuel for their own use by enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel. But despite the compelling economic need to reduce our dependence on imported nuclear fuel, South Korea has maintained a policy of voluntarily abstaining from enrichment and reprocessing. This reflects our firm commitment to nuclear nonproliferation.
Let me briefly describe the two incidents in question. One occurred in 2000 when a few scientists at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, an independent body partially subsidized by the government, conducted a laboratory-scale laser isotope separation using uranium instead of the usual nonnuclear materials. This was belatedly reported to the Korean government in June, and we, in turn, reported it to the IAEA under the safeguard standards called the Additional Protocol, to which we voluntarily acceded early this year. The other incident was even older, occurring in 1982 at one of the two research reactors that had been introduced to Korea in the 1960s. Scientists, it was recently learned, carried out an experiment on irradiated fuel, resulting in the extraction of a few milligrams of plutonium, in an effort to analyze the chemical characteristics of the heavy metal that had not existed in Korea until then.
Although both experiments should have been conducted with the proper authorization of my government and reported to the IAEA in a timely manner, the amount of nuclear material involved was too trivial to have had any military relevance. As such, these research experiments are completely different from the cases of some other countries possessing nuclear programs that have been the subject of serious concern about nuclear proliferation among the international community.
My government is providing full and active cooperation to the IAEA in a completely transparent manner to facilitate its verification of our recent declarations. We have rectified any inadvertent negligence of reporting duties, so our reports to the IAEA now include past nuclear activities and scientific experiments involving nuclear material in terms of the milligram units involved in each.
Furthermore, to reaffirm our principle of nuclear nonproliferation and full transparency, my government pronounced the Four Principles on the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy on Sept. 18. With these principles we have underlined the following: that we have no intention of developing or possessing nuclear weapons; that we firmly maintain the principle of nuclear transparency and will strengthen cooperation with the international community to this end; that we will abide by international agreements on nuclear nonproliferation; and that, on the basis of international trust, we will expand the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
We are taking every necessary step to prevent the recurrence of incidents such as those that were recently disclosed. Among other things, we are strengthening our nuclear control and accounting system by establishing an independent government body, the Center for Nuclear Energy Technology Control. We will also introduce an education program on safeguard obligations for nuclear scientists, which will strengthen their awareness regarding research activities.
The Republic of Korea's determination not to pursue any nuclear programs other than for the peaceful use of nuclear energy remains unequivocal and should never be doubted.
The writer is minister of foreign affairs and trade of the Republic of Korea.