South Korea has started a feasibility review for the building of a nuclear-powered submarine amid North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile threats, government sources said Sunday.
The Navy has commissioned a private institute to find ways to resolve international restrictions in building a nuclear submarine with the results to come out as early as the end of this year, sources said.
The government and the military are likely to finalize whether to construct a nuclear-powered sub based on the study.
The move comes as North Korea has been advancing its nuclear and missile capability by firing two intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
The North's development of SLBMs could pose a grave threat as it is hard to detect when and where they will be launched, making it difficult to seek a timely and effective response.
"Many experts said that it is necessary to build a nuclear submarine to better counter the North's threat" a source said. "A study is aimed at reviewing legal interpretations including international treaties and technical aspects."
There are growing calls from government officials and politicians including Defense Minister Song Young-moo to push for building of a nuclear-powered sub.
But some experts said that there may be restrictions in doing so, citing President Moon Jae-in's nuclear-focused energy-free policy and a nuclear pact between Seoul and Washington.
The South Korean military reportedly has the capability to construct a small nuclear reactor for a nuke-powered submarine, but the problem lies in securing enriched uranium for fuel.
A 2015 atomic energy pact between South Korea and the United States permits Seoul to make low-enriched uranium that can be used as fuel.
Analysts said that as the deal allows Seoul to enrich uranium at a low level for a "peaceful" purposes, Washington would not give its consent to South Korea's possible move for a nuclear submarine.
Moon Keun-sik, an expert at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said that it is possible to buy uranium with 20 percent of enrichment levels being traded in markets.
"South Korea can push for building a nuclear submarine after reporting to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it has no plan to develop nuclear weapons," he claimed.
North Korea last week released photos that indicates that it is developing what it called the underwater strategic Pukguksong-3 ballistic missile. Analysts estimated that the missile may be a new solid-fuel SLBM, which may have a range of 2,000-2,500 kilometers. (Yonhap)