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KEDO: How Multilateral Cooperation Helped an Unprecedented North Korean Project

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In 1994, the United States and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework, in which Pyongyang promised to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for energy aid and improvement of relations with Washington. An international consortium led by the United States was created to implement the key provisions of the deal, including the delivery of two light water reactor (LWR) units. While multi-national efforts are common in commercial nuclear projects, the case of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was unique. KEDO’s challenges ranged from the lack of diplomatic relations between its main members and North Korea, to the country’s poor infrastructure. This paper examines KEDO’s experience and concludes that cooperation among its member states—Japan, South Korea, the United States and others—helped ensure the project’s financial and political feasibility, even if work did not proceed smoothly. While the construction of the LWRs was never completed due to larger political changes, KEDO’s experience offers lessons for future nuclear projects that face similar hurdles.

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