The United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have enjoyed a lengthy and fruitful bilateral cooperative relationship in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and in promoting mutual nuclear nonproliferation objectives. This Brookings Institution report assesses the prospects for further ROK-U.S. collaboration on civil nuclear projects and nuclear nonproliferation, safety and security—in particular, those efforts which would involve third countries.
The United States has long been a major exporter of nuclear materials, equipment and technology. South Korea has recently entered the international nuclear market—for example, it has sold nuclear reactors to the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—and is positioning itself to become a leading supplier of nuclear reactors, components, and services to other countries. The nuclear industries of both countries are already closely intertwined.
The projected growth in the use of nuclear power worldwide creates new opportunities for deepening and expanding existing U.S.-ROK collaboration to promote the civil uses of nuclear energy in third countries. This expansion can build on the cooperation that is already taking place. For example, American companies are participating in the South Korean-led nuclear project in the UAE, and South Korean firms are significant suppliers to Westinghouse AP1000 reactors that are under construction in China. The governments and nuclear industries of both the United States and the ROK also have a strong mutual interest in ensuring that their cooperation in transferring nuclear materials, equipment and technology to third countries is subject to the strictest safety, security and nonproliferation standards. The conclusion of a new ROK-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which is expected soon, should help enhance nuclear commerce and intergovernmental collaboration between the two countries, and promote the development of partnerships between their industries in third markets.
This report attempts to answer a number of questions, including the following:
- What are the U.S. legal, regulatory, procedural and policy requirements and criteria for collaboration with South Korea involving (1) direct exports from the U.S. to third countries; and (2) reexports by the ROK to third countries of U.S.-origin nuclear materials, facilities, components and technology, as well as dual-use items?
- What kind of U.S. nuclear exports, or reexports from South Korea, to a third country would require that a U.S. peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement (sometimes called a 123 agreement) be in effect with that third country?
- What kinds of nuclear items may be exported or retransferred without a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement?
- When a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement is not required, what kinds of legal instruments and nonproliferation assurances would the United States require of the third county? Of South Korea?
- How do the United States’ nuclear export requirements differ from those of other major nuclear suppliers? To what extent will disparities in requirements between the United States and other suppliers affect competitiveness in the global nuclear marketplace and the prospects for U.S.-ROK collaboration in third countries?
- In what countries is South Korea seeking to promote its nuclear exports, and what are the prospects for such exports?
- What are the prospects for U.S.-ROK collaboration in third-country markets, given the relative strengths and weaknesses of their respective industries, while bearing in mind that American and South Korean companies may sometimes be in direct competition for nuclear projects in third countries?
- What steps could the U.S. government take to facilitate the two countries’ collaboration in the international nuclear market?
- What cooperative steps could the governments and companies of the ROK and the United States take to ensure the establishment of the highest standards of nuclear nonproliferation, security and safety in countries benefiting from U.S.-South Korean nuclear collaboration?
I think probably that the lesson that [Kim Jong Un is] learning is that he doesn’t have to give up anything and yet people will be scrambling for summits with him. ... The longer we have these drawn-out talks, these summits, bilaterals, trilaterals, quadrilaterals, the more it buys time for them to reinforce their claimed status [as a nuclear power] but also to continue with their R&D. But I do think that there is an element of trying to mitigate the sanctions, and also Kim took all those discussions about military strikes seriously enough to try and take the wind out of the sails. ... I find it difficult to envision how or why he would give up his nuclear weapons, which have pretty much given him what he’s wanted: which is the strategic relevance, the international prestige, and deterrence.
[Regarding President Trump's shift from enthusiasm to uncertainty over the U.S.-North Korea summit] In effect, President Trump is getting a mini-lesson in talking to the North Koreans even before he talks to the North Koreans.