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Why Extension of the U.S.-ROK Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreement is Critical to U.S. Interests

Ted Jones
The following is a guest post by Ted Jones, Director of International Supplier Relations for NEI.

This afternoon, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on H.R. 2449, to authorize the President to extend the current U.S.-South Korea nuclear cooperation agreement until March 2016.  U.S. and South Korea negotiators had hoped to conclude negotiations for a long-term successor to the 30-year agreement earlier this spring, but ran out of time. 

Temporary extension of the current agreement will avoid a disruption of U.S.-ROK nuclear energy cooperation while negotiation of the long-term renewal agreement is finalized.  Bilateral nuclear energy trade flows in both directions and increasingly to third countries.  For example, U.S. Export-Import Bank last year authorized financing for $2 billion in U.S. exports to a South Korean-led project in the U.A.E. 

Seamless continuation of U.S.-ROK nuclear cooperation is essential for the United States and South Korea to remain reliable nuclear energy partners and suppliers to the global nuclear energy market.  Disruptions in our partnerships would encourage countries developing nuclear energy to reduce their reliance on U.S. sources of nuclear components, technology and services. At stake are billions in U.S.exports and tens of thousands of jobs

Exports and jobs are not the only U.S. interests at issue in U.S. nuclear energy commerce.  As a group of former defense and national security leaders recently explained in a letter to the President, U.S. influence in global nuclear security, safety and nonproliferation requires U.S. engagement in global nuclear energy markets. 

South Korea demonstrates the benefits to nuclear security and nonproliferation of U.S. nuclear cooperation.  The current U.S.-ROKSection 123 agreement provides the United States with consent rights over South Korea’s reprocessing of U.S.-origin fuel. When the long-term successor agreement is concluded, this consent right will be extended to used fuel from non-U.S. reactors, and to South Korea’s enrichment and storage of plutonium or highly-enriched uranium. These consent rights, plus 8 other nonproliferation assurances and guarantees, are required in every standard Section 123 agreement.

The U.S.-South Korea Section 123 agreement is the basis for a robust U.S. partnership in nuclear energy cooperation. By approving the clean extension this agreement, and the conclusion of nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries, Congress will enable the United States to compete in the growing global marketplace and create tens of thousands of jobs, while maintaining its beneficial influence over global nonproliferation policy and international nuclear safety.

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