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50 years of U.S.-Korea Nuclear Energy Cooperation

Commemorating 50 years of U.S.-Korea Nuclear Energy Cooperation

Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea
Remarks to the U.S.-Korea Nuclear Energy Cooperation
Seoul, Korea
May 1, 2006

Minister Park, Director General Lee, members of the Korean and U.S. delegations to the 27th Joint Standing Committee on Nuclear Energy Cooperation:

So often when people think of the U.S.-Korea relationship, they think of our military alliance, which has sustained stability on the Korean peninsula for more than half a century. Or perhaps they think of our trade relationship, which has risen from just $1.2 billion in two-way trade in the early 1970's to almost $72 billion in 2005, making Korea our 7th-largest trading partner. With courage and foresight, the leaders of our two countries have embarked on a project to expand that trade further, through a Free Trade Agreement that will be of significant benefit to both countries.

In my brief tenure as American Ambassador to Korea, I have learned that U.S.-Korea relations are founded on a level of engagement that goes far beyond the well-known military and trade aspects. By way of example, our Embassy is the largest single issuer of U.S. non-immigrant visas in the world. Altogether some 670,000 Koreans traveled to the U.S. last year. And Koreans make up the largest group of foreign students in the U.S., with more than 86,000 students currently studying there.

Today we celebrate another example of deep U.S.-Korean engagement. On February 3, 1956, representatives of our two governments signed the "Agreement for Cooperation...Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy." Little could they have guessed how the cooperation they initiated would flower. From the humble beginnings of a single research reactor built with U.S. support, the Korean nuclear energy industry has blossomed into the sixth-largest in the world, providing safe and reliable energy for a country almost devoid of fossil fuel resources. Moreover, Korea is recognized as an increasingly important contributor to the world's storehouse of nuclear knowledge and technical capacity.

Our nations are not resting on the laurels of our achievements over the last 50 years. Today we are jointly pursuing exciting avenues of research that may lead to new, advanced reactors and to new, more proliferation-resistant fuel cycles. I was privileged to visit KAERI last month and to see the facility where the research on Direct Use of Spent Fuel in CANDU Reactors, or DUPIC, is being carried out.

My staff did a little research trying to find a rough measure of the continued engagement of U.S. nuclear experts with their Korean counterparts, and discovered that in 2005 some 150 experts from the Department of Energy and our various national laboratories made official visits to Korea. I suspect the number of Korean nuclear experts who visit the United States each year is similarly substantial.

There are indications that we may be on the brink of a global renaissance for the nuclear power industry. The world has a growing need for energy, and a new imperative to exploit clean sources of energy that do not contribute to the accumulation of greenhouse gases. Concerns over safety, liability, cost effectiveness, waste disposal, and the potential for weapons proliferation have constrained the nuclear industry, certainly in my own country, where no new nuclear power plants have been ordered since 1978. These concerns are being tackled, and the ongoing collaboration between the U.S. and Korea has an important role to play. And with its growing experience in nuclear design and fabrication, Korea stands to benefit substantially from a nuclear resurgence.

I am proud of America's contributions to advance the peaceful uses of nuclear energy over the last 50 years. I wish to thank the members of the U.S. Delegation present today for their role, and for the support of their agencies, in pushing our cooperative agenda ahead. Most of all, however, I want to congratulate you, Mr. Minister, and your colleagues throughout the Korean nuclear establishment, for Korea's remarkable achievements over the last 50 years.

Released on May 1, 2006


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