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S. Korea looks to buy North's nuclear fuel

  • Story Highlights
  • South Korea will send delegation of nuclear experts to N. Korea this week
  • Team will survey North's unused nuclear fuel rods and possibly buy them
  • Highest-level S. Korean visit since North ended inter-Korean projects last year
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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korea has said it will send a delegation of nuclear experts to North Korea this week to survey its unused nuclear fuel rods and possibly buy them.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il meets people at a library in the country's north in mid-December.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il meets people at a library in the country's north in mid-December.

The group led by Hwang Joon-kook, the director general of the ministry's North Korean nuclear affairs bureau, is scheduled to arrive on Thursday. No date for their return was given.

Hwang would be the highest-level South Korean official to visit Pyongyang since inter-Korean projects were suspended by the North last year after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in February.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry said the visit was agreed upon during bilateral talks last month in Beijing. The group was to survey and study the technical and economic feasibility of removing North Korea's fuel rods for use by South Korea.

The Foreign Ministry said no details of the removal process had been worked out yet.

Pyongyang has said it has about 14,000 unused fuel rods, according to a South Korean government official who spoke on the record but asked not to be identified.

About 5,500 spent fuel rods have already been removed from North Korea, leaving about 2,500 more, the official said.

The removal of the North Korea's unused nuclear fuel rods from its Yongbyon nuclear facilities is part of the process agreed on during six-party talks that also involved China, Russia, the United States and Japan. The removal of the rods would complete phase two of the North's denuclearization process.

The six-party talks led to North Korea's agreement to disable the reactor that had produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The United States and its allies still require North Korea to give up the plutonium it already has, an estimated 30 kilograms, as well as details of any other bomb-producing programs it may have, including enriched uranium.

CNN Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-ae contributed to this report.

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