Burial of nuclear waste in Gyeongju is approved

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Burial of nuclear waste in Gyeongju is approved

Korea’s nuclear authority decided on Friday to dispose of low- to intermediate-level nuclear waste starting this year in the nation’s only underground depository in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang.

This is first time the Korean government will start burying nuclear waste of any kind after 29 years of conflict with towns selected as destinations for the waste.

In the past three decades, the government selected several cities mostly outside the greater Seoul area such as Samcheok and Buan to bury low- and intermediate-level waste like protective clothing and gloves worn by nuclear-reactor workers or used in radiology departments of hospitals and university labs. The waste won’t lose its radioactivity for a century or longer.

The rural towns were selected for their geological conditions.

The Atomic Energy Commission, which is headed by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won and also includes five ministers and six independent nuclear experts, finalized its first low-toxicity nuclear waste disposal plan at a plenary meeting held Friday at the Seoul Government Complex in central Seoul.

“The government will make sure to manage the low- and intermediate-level waste depository safely,” said Chung. “Also, we will do our best to finish drafting high-level nuclear waste disposal proposals by the end of this year.”

Nearly 4,200 drums of nuclear waste will be buried within the Gyeongju underground depository by the end of this year, a small amount compared to the 129,240 drums that have been waiting to be buried as of the end of 2014.

Each drum holds 200 liters. They will be buried as deep as 130 meters (426 feet). In the Gyeongju site, six large silos have been drilled into the ground. Each can hold as many as 100,000 drums.

To ensure safety, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and its nuclear management institutions will test each drum before moving, while being moved and right before burying.

Another depository will be completed by 2019 in Gyeongju to hold an additional 95,760 drums. The government procured a 258.8 billion won ($236 million) budget to build the facility.

Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, home of the Wolsong nuclear power plant, was the only city whose residents agreed to build an underground facility to dispose of low- and intermediate-level nuclear wastes. The Gyeongju city government allocated a 218-square-meter (2,346-square-foot) piece of land, which can hold up to 800,000 drums of nuclear waste.

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

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