South Korea to send nuclear envoy to North Korea
The delegation will discuss buying fuel rods from a North Korean reactor, a step in the North's disarmament process.
Officials in Seoul, South Korea, announced Tuesday that a South Korean team is expected to visit North Korea on Thursday to consider buying unused fuel rods from a plutonium-producing reactor. The rare visit is part of an ongoing nuclear disarmament process. North Korea's openness to the visit is being perceived as a positive message to Washington in the run-up to President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration.Skip to next paragraph
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The group led by Hwang Joon-kook, the director general of the ministry's North Korean nuclear affairs bureau, will travel to North Korea via Beijing on Thursday. No date for their return was given.
The Foreign Ministry said the visit was agreed upon during bilateral talks last month in Beijing. The group was to survey and study the technical and economic feasibility of removing North Korea's fuel rods for use by South Korea.
The removal of ... North Korea's unused nuclear fuel rods from its Yongbyon nuclear facilities is part of the process agreed upon during six-party talks that also involved China, Russia, the United States and Japan.
According to The Korea Herald, an English-language South Korean daily, the South Korean team will discuss the option of buying unused fuel rods stored at Yongbyon. Seoul first offered to buy the fuel rods in 2007.
"The fact-finding team will study economic and technical feasibility of the fresh fuel rods," a ministry source said.
"If the price is too expensive, we will not [be] able to buy the fuel rods. We have to take into account that conservatives here may protest the purchase plan," the source said on condition of anonymity....
North Korea has so far completed eight of the 11 disablement steps. The remaining three include extracting spent fuel rods from the nuclear reactor, taking the unused fuel rods out of the North, and removing the driving gear of the control rod.
So far, 3,200 of the 8,000 spent fuel rods have been extracted and stored in water tanks. Used fuel rods can be used to obtain weapons-grade plutonium. The control rod can be disabled once all the used fuel rods have been removed.
North Korea reportedly has some 2,000 fresh fuel rods.