ARTICLE: Technology Transfer Behind a Diplomatic Struggle: Reappraisal of South Korea’s Nuclear Fuel Project in the 1970s

Kim, Seong-Jun. 2009. “Technology Transfer Behind a Diplomatic Struggle: Reappraisal of South Korea’s Nuclear Fuel Project in the 1970s.” Historia Scientiarum 19(2): 184-193.

Seong-Jun Kim explores the Nuclear Fuel Project, a failed attempt by the government and scientists of South Korea to import nuclear fuel cycle facilities from France, Canada, and Belgium during the 1970s. For courses interested in the historical development of nuclear energy in East Asia, this well-researched article helps illustrate the role of scientists in promoting nuclear energy research in South Korea from the 1950s to the 1970s, especially in light of U.S. governmental opposition to the Nuclear Fuel Project.

To meet the demand for electricity from the increasing number of large-scale industrial plants during the 1970s, the South Korean government, scientists, and engineers planned to obtain expertise and technology to construct and operate nuclear power plants. They prepared to purchase nuclear reactors from commercial corporations such as Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. Their purchase plans, however, were constrained by the newly emerging international restrictions on the acquisition of certain types of nuclear technology, such as those for the reprocessing of nuclear fuel, enforced primarily by the U.S. government. Kim delineates the processes by which South Korea nuclear scientists and the South Korea government negotiated with the United States government and emphasized the prominent role South Korea nuclear scientists in the negotiation processes.

To contextualize the Nuclear Fuel Project in the 1970s, Kim’s article also includes a brief introduction to South Korea’s first national nuclear research institute and government agency: the Atomic Energy Research Institute (AERI) and the Office of Atomic Energy (OAE). Kim is particularly interested in nuclear scientists and their relationships with the government and political leaders in South Korea. According to Kim, when President Park Chung Hee lost his interest in nuclear research in the 1970s, scientist Hyung Sup Choi played an important role to persuade Park to continue his financial support in nuclear research.

Those interested in this topic will look forward to Kim’s dissertation, Formation of National Institute for Nuclear Research and Boundary-Making: The Case of Atomic Energy Research Institute (1959-1973) in South Korea (Seoul National University, forthcoming, written in Korean).

If you encounter difficulty retrieving this article from your library, you may contact Seong-Jun Kim at joonkim1[at] snu.ac.kr to obtain a copy of this text.

– Honghong Tinn