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Nuclear waste solutions proposed

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In a forum on Thursday, foreign experts proposed arguments for two ways that Korea can dispose of its nuclear waste - either by burying it underground or keep developing safer cooling technology to deal with the material.

The experts from the United States and Germany explained that many countries are dropping the chemical reprocessing method of cooling down nuclear waste in storage plants because it is expensive and there are concerns that it is not technologically stable.

The debate held in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, was hosted by the Public Engagement Commission on Spent Nuclear Fuel Management, launched by the government last year to find a public consensus on how to treat nuclear waste.

The panelists were Frank von Hippel, professor and co-director of science and global security at Princeton University and former assistant director for national security at the White House Office of Science and Technology; Klaus Janberg, a nuclear engineer and former executive of GNS, a Germany-based spent nuclear fuel storage casks developer; and Chang Yoon-il, senior technical adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

For years, local environmental and nuclear experts have expressed concerns that nuclear waste storage in Korea will reach its saturation point soon, starting with the Gori plant in 2016. Korea generates about 30.4 percent of its energy from nuclear power and has made almost no progress toward deciding the saturation point of stored nuclear waste.

Of 31 countries with nuclear power plants, only six reprocess their nuclear waste.

At the forum, von Hippel said that reprocessing has led to financial problems in many countries, in construction, operation and in maintenance of reprocessing plants.

For example, he said one Japanese facility has seen its costs rise by $2 billion per year, citing 2011 Japan Atomic Energy Commission data.

He also pointed out that countries that have operated reprocessing facilities, such as France, Japan, the United Kingdom and Russia, have recorded leaks of cooling sodium, which is highly radioactive.

Instead, von Hippel recommended Korea create a waste repository of about 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles) in which 100,000 tons of spent fuel can be buried.

“Korea has spared sites larger than that to build all the power plants,” said von Hippel.

“It is less hazardous than keeping the spent fuel on the surface, and less costly and less dangerous than keeping them on the surface in the dry air-cooled casks.”

Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute has focused on jointly researching sodium-cooled reprocessing technology in cooperation with its U.S. counterpart Argonne National Laboratory, for which Chang works. He said Korea should continue reprocessing in line with its research.

“Korea is a leading nuclear energy country in terms of capacity and exports, so it should take leadership in the long-term vision [of reprocessing research],” he said.

Chang said that the cooling process is safe and is a better economic choice than underground storage because it only requires a small, manageable facility, and that burying spent fuel is too large to control.

BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]




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