South Korean PM calls for measures to keep meteorites in Korea

This picture taken on March 11, 2014 shows a South Korean scientist checking a chondrite (a type of meteorite) found in the southeastern city of Jinju, at the Korea Polar Research Institute in Incheon, west of Seoul.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won on Tuesday told government officials to cook up ways to prevent recently found meteorites from being taken out of the country.

The comments appear to be a response to reports that foreign and domestic "meteorite hunters" are scouring the country's southern region in search for more of the rare space rocks.

"Since meteorites are invaluable material for space research, we must find ways to keep them within the country for research," Chung said in a meeting of high-ranking officials. He urged the officials to find out if the government can procure the two meteorites from people who found them last week in South Gyeongsang Province.

Chung instructed the Science Ministry to establish a system to deal with future meteorite discoveries.

The Science Ministry said it will push for a registration system for objects that came from space. The Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea plans to find out whether the meteorites can be categorized as natural monuments, while urging international airports and harbors to strengthen customs checks to make sure the valuable rocks do not leave Korea.

The possible measures include designating the meteorites as "natural monuments," which are subject to government supervision. The meteorites are currently categorized as "monuments," which means they cannot be taken out of the country.

The ownership of the meteorites, however, remains unclear, said an official from the CHA. Because it is the first time a meteorite has been found since the country's government was established in 1948, there is no law that directly addresses the issue of space rock ownership.