Waste not, want not

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Waste not, want not

At a civilian policy forum on spent nuclear fuel, a group of city and district councilmen as well as nuclear reactor experts urged the government to build intermediate waste disposal facilities by 2024. Nuclear waste is currently being stocked at interim storage tanks in reactor compounds, but these are expected to be filled by 2016. Even if enlarged, oversaturation is inevitable within 12 years. As such, it is imperative that we have an adequate waste disposal system in place by then to avoid a major catastrophe.

The government, which has been dragging its feet on the issue, must now heed the warning signs, even though we sympathize with its predicament. Plans to build permanent disposal facilities have been met with strong opposition from those who do not want such facilities in their backyards. Local authorities in Buan County, North Jeolla, even had to withdraw their plan to house a system to store low- or intermediate-level radioactive waste, contaminated clothing and other equipment after violent clashes with residents.

Spent fuel, which is considered a high-level waste, will undoubtedly trigger greater acrimony from protestors. Authorities will have to wrangle over storage methods, location sites and safety standards. Moreover, the government is still hanging onto its hope of revising a 1974 agreement with the United States in order to lift the ban on its freedom to reprocess spent fuel to power commercial nuclear reactors.

For these reasons, the government has been putting off dealing with contentious issues. But speakers at the forum warned that we can no longer afford to sidestep the issue; otherwise, we could find radioactive waste being dumped in our own backyards.

The government should first of all proclaim the need for such a facility. It would then have to form a committee to explore the best design method, safety procedures and location. It must establish a basic policy framework for disposing of radioactive waste. We have been too liberal in our use of energy due to the existence of cheap and accessible nuclear reactors, but now is the time to take responsibility for the result of our wanton consumption.
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