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IAEA Inspectors to Visit South Korea  - 2004-09-17

The International Atomic Energy Agency is planning to send inspectors to South Korea, which recently admitted having conducted nuclear experiments that it said were for scientific purposes only.

The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, told reporters Friday investigations are continuing into South Korea's nuclear experiments involving uranium enrichment and the separation of plutonium, dating back to the 1980s.

"We are sending a team of inspectors tomorrow to the Republic of Korea, and I hope, by November, we shall be able to provide a comprehensive report, and provide the required assurances to the board and the international community," announced Mr. ElBaradei. "We are getting very active and good cooperation on the part of the Republic of Korea and transparency, and I trust this will continue."

The inspectors are expected to view dismantled equipment, interview scientists and collect documentation.

Mr. ElBaradei said he would travel to Seoul at the beginning of October to discuss the previously undeclared nuclear experiments with government officials. South Korea told the IAEA board of governors Friday that these were isolated experiments for academic purposes.

The Japanese envoy to the IAEA, Yukio Takasu, told reporters the matter was still of concern.

"Obviously, it's very embarrassing that things like this happen, and some of the research, or laboratory work, using nuclear material should have been reported to the agency," he said.

Mr. Takasu welcomed Seoul's assurances that it plans to take steps to ensure transparency regarding any future use of nuclear material.

"The Korean government will take measures to avoid a recurrence of this issue by creating a national center for controlling nuclear material, and educating scientists to remind them of their safeguard obligation; and safeguard agreements mean that even minute amounts of nuclear material must be reported to the agency [IAEA]," he said.

Mr. Takasu said the South Korean tests were not comparable with North Korea's nuclear activities, because, he said, Pyongyang is not co-operating with the IAEA, or allowing inspections.