The Japan Times

Wednesday, February 02, 2000

KEDO ready to begin construction on nuclear reactors

By YOSUKE NAITO
Staff writer

Full-scale construction of two light-water reactors in North Korea is set to begin by mid-February, Desaix Anderson, executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, said in an interview.

On Monday in Tokyo, Japan signed a loan agreement with KEDO to provide up to 116.5 billion yen to finance construction of the reactors, completing the funding of the project under a 1994 U.S.-North Korean accord on Pyongyang's abandonment of its nuclear development program.

Anderson arrived in Japan on Sunday to sign the agreement, which, together with other arrangements made in December between KEDO and South Korea has enabled primary construction of the reactors to begin in Kumho, northeastern North Korea.

"There have been some doubts in Pyongyang whether we are serious (about the reactor project)," Anderson said Tuesday. "But now with the money available, we are moving ahead full-scale. That will make a lot of difference in terms of North Korea's attitude (toward us)."

Although land development had already begun at the reactor site, full-fledged construction of the reactors had long been stalled.

"For two years, we have been preparing the landscape in Kumho," Anderson said. "Within a couple of weeks, we will be able to expand what we are doing."

Construction of the reactors is financed mainly by South Korea and Japan. Of the estimated $4.6 billion in costs, Seoul pledged to provide $3.22 billion, or 70 percent of the cost, while Tokyo committed 116.5 billion yen, about $1.1 billion.

Regarding the timetable for the entire project, however, Anderson said it is still premature to determine a specific schedule, emphasizing instead the importance of engaging Pyongyang in the KEDO process and offering the country a way out of international isolation.

Under the initial plan, the reactor project was expected to be finished in 2003, but it came to a standstill in August 1998 when North Korea test-fired a missile over Japan, prompting Tokyo to freeze its financial cooperation to KEDO. Tokyo lifted the ban two months later.

Anderson expressed confidence that progress with the reactor project will have a positive impact on talks North Korea has been having with the U.S. and Japan.

In light of the plan's advancement and continuing talks, he said, "we are moving forward, entering a new stage -- a very promising one."

KEDO is an international energy consortium created in 1995 as agreed in a U.S.-North Korean accord the previous year to provide two light-water reactors with a capacity of 1,000 mw each to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang's abandonment of its nuclear development program.

Until the reactors start operations in the North, Washington is to provide Pyongyang with 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil annually via KEDO to meet Pyongyang's energy demands.

Regarding the oil issue, Anderson is optimistic that this year's target amount, which he said is estimated to cost roughly $90 million, will be met as planned.

"Last year, we shipped all 500,000 tons. There was no fixed schedule in the agreement with North Korea," he said. "We made last Monday (Jan. 24) the first shipment of the year 2000. We are doing very well."

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