[Viewpoint] A chance not to waste

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[Viewpoint] A chance not to waste

How should used fuel from nuclear power plants be managed?

This is an urgent problem for all countries operating nuclear power plants.

Fuel used for atomic power development demands thorough safety management.

This is because it changes to a highly radioactive substance as it goes through the process of heat energy production through nuclear fission within the nuclear reactor.

Disposal requires efforts in diverse fields such as long-term technological development, safety verification and securing plots for constructing waste facilities.

Due to such high requirements, there is no country in the world that yet operates a disposal site for used nuclear fuel. Only Finland and Sweden currently have lots prepared for disposal sites, which they plan to start up in about 2020.

Most other countries are in the process of developing the necessary technology or securing parcels of land.

The whole issue is very sensitive in terms of international diplomacy. Reprocessing used nuclear fuel comes with the risk of energy resources that can be used as power plant fuel and facilities and technology related to reprocessing being diverted to military use.

Furthermore, countries need to find out whether or not reprocessing used nuclear fuel has economic value for their people and whether large-scale facilities and technology are needed to reprocess the used nuclear fuel.

Aside from a few countries that have already established policies, including Britain, France and Japan, other countries are still repeatedly discussing how used nuclear fuel should be managed because of the specific characteristics of the fuel.

Korea does not have a national policy on the issue, either.

According to scholars of decision making, there are two main approaches. First, experts should make the decision when a situation requires proper awareness and an accurate prediction of the future. Leaving such problems totally up to the general public is a form of populism, and ultimately causes damage within society.

The other method of decision making demands an understanding of the losses and gains of those involved, together with emotional understanding. It is connected to the level of receptivity that the decision involves.

It can be said that the great beef-related stir in the summer of 2008 was caused because the receptivity of the public was not sufficiently considered.

The management of used nuclear fuel is a highly technological and expert field. Therefore, the matter of which decision-making method will be used should be carefully thought through. In this respect, the recent move of the government to first of all pursue expert services as a means to providing a solution can be seen as a good approach. The used nuclear fuel problem is one that experts of the field should put their heads together to solve. Securing the receptivity of those involved should be solved next, based on expert review results.

If the problem approaches the public without a process of expert review, there is a high chance it will lead to unnecessary debate and conflicts rather than solve the problem.

Korea ranks sixth in the world for nuclear power generation so it is important that we can provide a scientific and rational process and methodology for solving this issue.

We need a detailed review of all aspects of the problem, including technological and economic area, and the feasibility of any method.

We also need to look at the international diplomacy angle and ultimately provide an optimal solution that can raise our status in nuclear power technology.

*The writer is director of the Korea Radioactive Waste Management Corporation.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yoon Ho-taek
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