Iran Nuclear NewsSeoul says firm nearly sold Iran atomic booster

Seoul says firm nearly sold Iran atomic booster

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Reuters: Seoul acknowledged on Wednesday that a South Korean firm had nearly sold Iran a substance that can be used to boost a nuclear explosion but denied an exile group’s allegation that the sale had been completed. Reuters

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA – Seoul acknowledged on Wednesday that a South Korean firm had nearly sold Iran a substance that can be used to boost a nuclear explosion but denied an exile group’s allegation that the sale had been completed.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organisation, said Tehran had used front companies to obtain the substance, a hydrogen isotope called tritium, which also has civilian uses.

Ali Safavi, an official of the NCRI, which has reported accurately on Iran’s atomic programme in the past, told a news conference in Brussels on Aug. 25 that Iran had successfully smuggled tritium from South Korea.

However, Du-Ock Beck, director of the Export Control Licensing and Enforcement Division at South Korea’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, said the sale never went through.

“The government believes such misunderstanding derives from the fact that on Dec. 3 last year a Korean company planned to ship tritium to Iran after initially acquiring the export-controlled but highly versatile substance from France,” he said.

Tritium is used in luminous paint and in testing the safety of drugs but can be combined with another hydrogen isotope, deuterium, to act as a booster in atomic bombs.

Beck said the South Korean company had decided not to go ahead with the deal when France asked it to submit documentation on the material’s end-user on Dec. 24, 2004.

“After conducting an investigation…the Korean government found that no Korean company exported to Iran the substance in question, tritium,” Beck said in an e-mail to Reuters.

“The Korean government hereby issues a notification that Ali Safavi’s alleged statement through Reuters that a Korean company transferred the substance tritium to Iran is unfounded and untrue,” he added.

The Korean customs service confirmed on Tuesday that there was no record of a Korean company shipping tritium, Beck said.

South Korea ranks sixth in output of nuclear power in the world, producing about 40 percent of its electric power at its 20 nuclear plants.

Iran has come under intense international pressure to give up sensitive parts of its atomic programme, which Washington says is a cover for an attempt to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying the programme is needed to generate electricity.

In August 2002, the NCRI reported the existence of the Arak heavy water facility and a massive underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, prompting an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into Iran’s nuclear programme that continues today.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in a report to the IAEA board of governors last week that his agency was “still not in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran”.

(Additional reporting by So Eui Rhee in Seoul)

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