Mon, Oct 04, 2004 - Page 5 News List

UN nuclear agency probes S Korea's secret experiments

AP , SEOUL

The head of the UN nuclear agency said yesterday he is aware that nuclear experiments South Korea conducted several years ago were small, but said his agency needs to make sure they will not be repeated.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is in South Korea to speak at an international conference on science and world affairs. His visit follows Seoul's recent admissions that it conducted a plutonium-based nuclear experiment more than 20 years ago and a uranium-enrichment experiment in 2000.

The Vienna-based IAEA has expressed concern that Seoul failed to report the unauthorized experiments.

"Any undeclared activity is a matter of serious concern for me," ElBaradei told reporters upon arrival. "However, as far as I know now, these have been small experiments. We just wanted to make sure these were experiments and that there were nothing more than these experiments ... (and that) these experiments will not be repeated again without being declared to the organization."

South Korea says the experiments were purely research, but has acknowledged it should have informed the IAEA.

ElBaradei said he believed a report on Seoul's nuclear activities would be ready for submission to the IAEA's board of governors by next month.

Asked about the possibility of the issue being reported to the UN Security Council, he said such a decision would be "far down the road."

"This is something for the board of governors members to decide," he said. "You cannot speculate on the issue before we have a comprehensive report on these experiments."

During his four-day visit, ElBaradei is expected to meet South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, and Prime Minister Lee Hai-chan.

The IAEA has already sent inspectors here twice, and South Korean officials expect several more visits from the agency.

Plutonium and enriched uranium are two key ingredients of nuclear weapons. The controversy over South Korea's experiments has disrupted efforts to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs.

A fourth round of six-country talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs failed to take place last month.

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