|Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Sim Seung-seob answers questions from the lawmakers of the National Defense of Committee of the National Assembly, during its annual audit of the Republic of Korea Navy, held at Navy headquarters in Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province, Thursday. Yonhap|
By Jung Da-min
The Republic of Korea Navy is pushing forward a plan to procure a nuclear-powered attack submarine, according to its report for the National Assembly's annual audit, Thursday.
"The plan will be decided according to the government's policy and [the Navy] will cooperate with the Ministry of National Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff to push it forward," read the report.
"We are currently running a taskforce to review it within the Navy itself first, in the long run."
Reports on Seoul's plan to procure a nuclear-powered submarine first arose during the 2003-08 Roh Moo-hyun administration, but the government did not confirm such reports at the time.
The plan was later specified after President Moon Jae-in took power in 2017. He had voiced the plan as a presidential hopeful.
At a debate among presidential candidates in April 2017, weeks ahead of the election, Moon said South Korea is facing an era when it needs a nuclear submarine, and he would want to propel discussions for the revision of the Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Korea and the Government of the United States of America concerning Civil Use of Atomic Energy.
But such efforts to procure a nuclear submarine have not seen much progress, as pointed out during this year's audit by Rep. Choi Jae-sung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) who is also a member of the National Defense Committee of the National Assembly.
"There were two studies conducted to push forward the procurement of a nuclear-powered submarine in 2007 but not much additional review has since been made on this," Choi said, citing data from the Navy. "The Navy is running the taskforce for underwater power generation but its activities are about nothing but collecting simple intelligence."
Choi also raised the issue of revising the cooperation agreement on the use of atomic energy between the governments of South Korea and the U.S.
"The South Korea-U.S. agreement on the use of atomic power and cooperation with the international community as well as national sympathy and others require efforts from political and diplomatic circles," Choi said.
According to the revision of the 2015 agreement between South Korea and the U.S. on the use of atomic energy, South Korea has since been able to meet its energy demands using nuclear fuel of uranium enriched to less than 20 percent through consultations with the U.S.
Seoul is voicing the need to procure a nuclear submarine at a time when North Korea is accelerating its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) developments. The North has successfully conducted the test-firing of its new SLBM Pukguksong-3, Oct.2, over the sea off the coast off Wonsan, Kangwon Province.
Nuclear submarines have considerable performance advantages over conventional diesel-electric submarines, especially in that the nuclear propulsion frees the submarine from the need to surface frequently as it does not need air during the propulsion process.