South Korea and the United States have agreed on a 10-year joint study on the issue reprocessing spent nuclear fuel with a new, proliferation-safe technology, an official said here.

A nuclear accord signed with the US in 1974 prevents South Korea from reprocessing fuel from civilian nuclear plants. With the accord set to expire in 2014, Seoul and Washington have been in talks to rewrite the agreement since last year.

At the first round of talks in October last year, South Korea and the US agreed to launch joint research on Seoul’s demand to adopt what is known as “pyroprocessing” technology, which is considered by some to be less conducive to proliferation.

The two sides also agreed to separate the pyroprocessing issue from talks on revising their nuclear accord called the Korea-US Atomic Energy Agreement.

“Apart from talks on revising the Korea-US Atomic Energy Agreement, experts from the two nations agreed to start joint research on the pyroprocessing technology for 10 years,” Lee Kyung-ryeol, head of a task force in charge of talks on revising the nuclear accord at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said at a forum in Seoul yesterday.

“With the results of the joint research, a decision will be made on whether the Republic of Korea could adopt the pyroprocessing technology in the future,” Lee said, referring South Korea by its official name.

In the face of growing nuclear waste stockpiles and its ambition to become a global power in the civilian nuclear industry, South Korea hopes to adopt pyroprocessing technology, which leaves separated plutonium, the main ingredient in making atomic bombs, mixed with other elements.