North Korea and a U.S.-led consortium have reached agreement on important details of a plan to replace the Communist state’s existing nuclear program, which is suspected of weapons development, South Korean officials said Sunday.
The agreement would remove the final obstacle to building two new reactors and eliminate a program North Korea has allegedly been using to build nuclear bombs.
The officials declined to speculate on when North Korea and the Korea Energy Development Organization would officially close the deal.
North Korea’s relations with a key member of the consortium, South Korea, were set back earlier this month when a North Korean submarine ran aground off the South’s east coast.
Construction of the modern reactors was to have begun this fall at Sinpo, a remote fishing village on North Korea’s east coast, some 250 miles from the capital, Pyongyang. But disputes over real estate and workers’ wages delayed negotiations.
In monthlong talks that ended Thursday in New York, North Korea agreed to provide a 2,190-acre plot for the new nuclear plant, the officials said. The consortium and North Korea agreed that North Korean workers will be paid on par with North Koreans working in joint ventures with foreign companies, officials said Sunday.
Under a 1994 deal with the United States, North Korea pledged to scrap its current nuclear program, even though it denies it has been developing weapons. In return, Washington formed a consortium to provide the North with two Western-made reactors that produce less weapons-grade plutonium.
South Korea will bear most of the cost of the project, estimated at $4.9 billion. The United States will give the North 500,000 tons of fuel annually until the reactors are completed. The first is expected to be ready by 2003.