WASHINGTON – While the Bush administration confronts North Korea over development of nuclear weapons, it is allowing the regime access to thousands of documents on nuclear technology as part of an electric power project, the Energy Department acknowledged.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., questioned the continuation of the nuclear technology transfers.
In a letter to Markey, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the administration was considering suspending the technology transfers, which began in 1996 as part of a program to help North Korea build two light water nuclear reactors to generate electricity.
The program was extended for another five years by the Bush administration in 2001. The twin reactors are being built by a South Korean consortium using reactor technology developed by Westinghouse. Construction began last August.
The Energy Department confirmed Friday that about 3,100 documents related to nuclear power plant licensing and operation have been approved for use in the project. About 300 of the documents have already been transferred, while about 100 documents were blocked by the Energy Department's export control office.
Abraham said every precaution is being taken to assure that North Korea "does not receive technology or assistance that could further a nuclear weapons program."
"The authorization explicitly restricts U.S. technology transfers to that related to licensing and safe operation" of the proposed reactors and "bars transfer of any U.S. technology that would enable North Korea to design or manufacture key components or nuclear reactor fuel," Abraham wrote Markey in a March 4 letter.
He said the DOE export control office "has carefully and thoroughly reviewed" the documents related to the reactor project.
Markey said the administration should halt all nuclear cooperation with North Korea and immediately bar the further transfer of the documents, which cover such subjects as training, quality assurance, reactor construction and reactor safety.
"While Bush administration officials have thrashed the Clinton administration's approach to North Korea, the fact is that they continued the same ill-conceived policy of offering (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il access to nuclear technology," complained Markey.