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A multilateral consortium charged with providing North Korea with two nuclear power reactors decided Monday to proceed with the construction work, paving the way for a deal to be signed with the main contractor Wednesday. The executive board of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization agreed at a one-day meeting in Tokyo to “proceed in the direction of signing a main contract” with Korea Electric Power Corp. of South Korea, the main contractor for the KEDO project, to begin primary construction of two light-water reactors in Kumho in the northeastern part of North Korea, a Foreign Ministry official said. Although land development has already begun at the reactor site, the anticipated contract between the KEDO and KEPCO is expected to enable full-scale construction work on the reactors to begin by the end of this year. In his meeting the same day with KEDO ambassadors from Japan, the United States, South Korea and the European Union — the four members of its executive board — as well as KEDO executive director Desaix Anderson, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono expressed Japan’s commitment to helping KEDO complete the reactors. KEDO is an international energy consortium created in 1995 to provide two light-water reactors with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts each to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s commitment to abandon its nuclear development program, as agreed in a 1994 U.S.-North Korean accord. Welcoming the progress in the KEDO process, Kono explained Japan’s intention to resume normalization talks with North Korea in response to the result of a recent visit to Pyongyang by a nonpartisan legislative mission from Japan, the official said. U.S. ambassador to KEDO Charles Kartman praised the cooperation among Tokyo, Seoul and Washington in dealing with North Korea, saying the progress in the KEDO process may also help advance the expected normalization talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang, the official said. Anderson told Kono that KEDO appreciates Japan’s resolve for further commitment to the KEDO process, the official said. KEDO was established a year after the U.S. and North Korea struck an agreement in 1994 that Pyongyang will scrap its nuclear development program in exchange for the reactors. Until the reactors start operations, the U.S. has promised to provide the North with 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil annually via KEDO. Construction of the reactors is financed mainly by South Korea and Japan. Of the estimated $4.6 billion in total costs, Seoul pledged to provide $3.22 billion, or 70 percent of the cost, while Tokyo committed $1 billion. Under the initial plan, work was expected to end in 2003, but it came to a standstill in August 1998, when North Korea test-fired a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan, prompting Tokyo to freeze financial cooperation to KEDO. Japan lifted the ban two months later. KEDO consists of 12 members, including the U.S., Japan, South Korea, the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some Latin American and East European countries.

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