The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency rebuked South Korea on Friday for secret experiments that could have led to the development of an atomic bomb, but spared it the humiliation of being hauled in front of the Security Council.
At a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency here, governors approved a statement in which Seoul escaped with relatively mild criticism.
“The member states are seriously concerned about these experiments,” IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters.
But he said delegates had also noted Seoul’s “active cooperation” in clearing up the case, and added, “We have not seen any indication that these experiments have been continued.”
The IAEA said in a report this month that South Korea had enriched a tiny amount of uranium in 2000 to a level close to what would be usable in a nuclear weapon, contradicting previous denials by Seoul.
South Korean scientists also separated a tiny amount of bomb-grade plutonium in 1982 without notifying the IAEA.
ElBaradei noted Seoul’s explanation that the work had been carried out by researchers “for scientific interest, without the knowledge of the government.”
He told reporters that South Korea had taken “corrective measures,” including tightening controls on nuclear materials and special training for atomic scientists. He said he would continue to investigate.
Revelations that South Korea had failed to report the highly sensitive experiments embarrassed the government by placing it alongside the likes of North Korea and Iran on the list of countries under IAEA scrutiny.
Seoul had lobbied hard to avoid being referred to the Security Council, and officials expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
“We think it was a good conclusion of the Korean case,” Foreign Ministry official Oh Joon told reporters.