Sunday, October 24, 2004

Depleted uranium munitions not disclosed by South Korea

South Korea produced anti-tank munitions in the 1980s
using depleted uranium imported for non-military use and
failed to make required disclosures, a South Korean
lawmaker and an environmental group said on Thursday.

A government official said depleted-uranium munitions
were produced for five years and the government had told
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1987
when the programme was ended.

Depleted uranium is a by-product of nuclear fuel
production. It can be used to strengthen ammunition and
enable it to penetrate armour.

The disclosure comes at a sensitive time for South
Korea, which said in September some of its scientists
had enriched a small amount of uranium in 2000 and
separated plutonium in 1982.

The government said those tests were conducted by
scientists purely out of curiosity, although the IAEA
said the failure to disclose them was a matter of
serious concern.

South Korea is involved in international efforts to get
communist North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons
ambitions but the North has said it would not resume
talks until an investigation of the South's tests was

South Korea made anti-tank munitions with material
derived from the conversion of depleted uranium in the
mid-1980s, Jo Seoung-soo, a lawmaker from the opposition
Democratic Labour Party, and the Green Korea United
group told a news conference

Doing so without disclosure broke an agreement with the
U.N. nuclear watchdog, they said.

"The use of the material in anti-tank munition requires
conversion of depleted uranium and not reporting it is
in violation of the safeguards," said Seok Kwang-hoon,
spokesman for the Green Korea United environmental

Jo and Seok said the munitions-making at government
laboratories between 1983 and 1987 was not aimed at
producing nuclear weapons.

"But this is a violation of the IAEA safeguard
agreement, and the government's failure to disclose it
hurts South Korea's credibility," Jo told reporters.

The government official said the IAEA was notified in
1987 when the programme was scrapped.

"No reporting before that had been required," he said.

Another government official said the development of the
munitions had "very little to do with the IAEA".

The use of depleted uranium in munitions did not involve
conversion of uranium, but a simple reshaping of the
material and that process carried no reporting
requirement, the second official said.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with nuclear
weapons," he said.

The IAEA will report in November on its findings on
South Korea's admission to enriching uranium and
separating plutonium after inspections in South Korea.

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