South Korean President Park Geun-hye is due to visit US counterpart Barack Obama early next month and it had been planned that they would sign off a new agreement on nuclear cooperation to take effect after 2014. However, negotiations stalled in recent weeks and officials decided to extend the current agreement for a further two years.
This secures the current legal arrangements supporting research programs and the exchange of nuclear goods and services, but means that South Korea is frustrated in planning its long-term strategy for managing used reactor fuel.
Stocks of used fuel are accumulating at South Korean nuclear power plants and the country would like to centralise storage and reprocess the fuel - separating the majority of recyclable fuel like uranium and plutonium from wastes that would be conditioned and packaged ready for disposal. America has long opposed this, avoiding the practice even though its own situation sees reactor fuel stored at power plants all around the country. US policy has been that theoretically weapons-usable plutonium should not be separated (as it is for example during commercial reprocessing in Britain and France). Japan has built a reprocessing plant with US consent that uses a variation on the process during which plutonium isotopes are never separated from other recyclable fuel. "