Waste of a barter

Famine-stricken North Korea will do anything to mitigate its starvation pangs - including accepting up to 200,000 barrels of nuclear waste from Taiwan's state-run Taiwan Power Company. In return for its generous offer of acting as an atomic waste burial site, it will get about US $1,135 per barrel. Taiwan also has an option to turn over another 140,000 barrels of waste to North Korea.

The deal has naturally enraged the latter's arch rival, South Korea, which has protested against the move on grounds of safety. Said Lee Kyu-hyung, spokesperson for the South Korean foreign ministry, "It could have a great environmental effect on the Korean peninsula." Seoul also argues that Taiwan's move threatens to break an international practice of disposing one's own nuclear waste at home and could set a bad precedent South Korea feels that its Northern counterpart does not have proper installations to store the nuclear waste. The area where the waste could be dumped is close to the demilitarised zone that separates North and South Korea. It is feared that the waste could leach into the groundwater in both the countries.

However, Peter Cheng, a Taiwanese foreign ministry spokesperson, said that the deal with Pyongyang was purely a "business deal". "There is no need to make excuses and find fault with us," he added and invited Seoul to inspect nuclear disposal facilities in North Korea if they were so concerned.

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