Korea-U.S. study set on storage of spent nuke fuelKorea and the United States have agreed to carry out a joint study on safe ways to store spent nuclear fuel, including exploration of the feasibility of pyro-processing technology, the government said yesterday.
The Ministry for Education, Science and Technology said the two sides agreed to conduct two years of preliminary research until 2012 on a storage system that is technologically and economically viable and does not undermine global nonproliferation efforts.
The research project is the first part of a three-stage, 10-year cooperative program agreed upon in Washington last October.
The ministry said that officials who met in New Mexico last week concurred that a long-term, safe and economically sustainable storage system is needed to cope with a growing amount of nuclear fuel.
“The two sides will review pyro-processing of fuel from light water reactors, development of advanced safety technologies and comprehensive ways of dealing with spent fuel,” the ministry said.
Think tanks under the U.S. Department of Energy and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute will participate in the joint research project.
South Korea, which currently operates 21 commercial reactors, has 10,000 tons of highly radioactive waste held in temporary storage areas at the country’s four nuclear reactors.
Such holding areas, however, are expected to reach full capacity around 2016, making it imperative for a more permanent solution to be found.
Seoul had been looking into pyro-processing since 1997 as a way to reduce the size of spent fuel and make storage safer.
The ministry says that the process is relatively safe because it stores processed plutonium with various other elements. By doing so, it makes it harder for plutonium to be used to make nuclear weapons.
Critics, however, have countered that pyro-processing is basically not much different from conventional reprocessing and that such a step by Seoul will hurt ongoing nonproliferation efforts.
Allowing Korea to pursue pyro-processing technology of nuclear waste has been a sensitive topic in the ongoing negotiations between Seoul and Washington over revision of their bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, which is due to expire in 2014.
The nuclear pact has barred Korea from participating.