[FOCUS] Nuclear-powered sub feasible under long-term military plan

Park Sae-jin Reporter Posted : 2017-06-29 10:13 Updated : 2017-06-29 10:13
글씨작게 글씨크게

[Yonhap Photo]

A nuclear-powered submarine capable of checking North Korea's submarine launched ballistic missile program is not a counsel of perfection but a feasible plan contained in South Korea's long-term defense build-up program, according to a top military official.

Defense Minister nominee Song Young-moo testified at a parliamentary confirmation hearing Wednesday that South Korea should build a nuclear-powered submarine to deal with a North Korean SLBM submarine. "We're thinking about a nuclear-powered submarine," he said, adding the subject was already factored into South Korea's long-term submarine program.

"We will make preparations in consideration of an international law and nuclear reprocessing," Song said, suggesting South Korea needs new accords with the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

South Korea has a three-phased KSS project to develop a fleet of submarines. Through the first phase, nine 1,200-ton diesel-electric subs have been built under license. The second phase calls for the construction of six 214 hybrid diesel-electric/fuel cell vessels. Through the third phase, nine 3,000-ton subs will be built with indigenous technologies.

Construction of the first KSS-3 submarine began in November 2014 and the second batch is to begin in 2025. The development of home-made nuclear submarines gained attention in South Korea as the North's SLBM program became a prime security concern in Northeast Asia.

President Moon Jae-in said during a pre-election TV debate that South Korea would open re-negotiations with the United States on revising a nuclear accord, ratified in 2015, that has effectively restricted the development of reprocessing technology and facilities to acquire enriched uranium as fuel.

South Korea had wanted to develop uranium enrichment and reprocessing capabilities in order to address concerns about energy security and the management of spent nuclear reactor fuel, but Washington argued that such capabilities could be used to produce weapons-grade nuclear material.

The 2015 deal left the door open to reprocessing sometime in the future, by allowing South Korea to conduct research into "pyroprocessing", a new technology considered largely proliferation-resistant since the product is thermally and radioactively far too hot to use for a weapon.

Wary of potential proliferation, Washington has put South Korea under tight surveillance, insisting wider concessions on reprocessing could complicate efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

The North's aggressive nuclear and missile tests and a flippant attitude taken by US President Donald Trump about the presence of US troops and equipment on the Korean peninsula changed a public perception, and many South Koreans now support nuclear-powered vessels and reprocessing spent fuel.

Piles of spent fuel rods stacked at more than 20 nuclear reactors have been a stringent issue in South Korea, which manufactures home-made reactors and exports nuclear power plants because Moon promised to accelerate the shutdown of old reactors. If South Korea ever decides to scrap the 2015 accord, it would be able to produce a huge amount of nuclear material, probably faster than North Korea.

Lim Chang-won = cwlim34@ajunews.com