Nuclear group advises on storage

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Nuclear group advises on storage

A group of nuclear experts said the government should immediately start looking for a geologically stable region for underground storage of highly-toxic nuclear waste because temporary storage in water pools inside nuclear reactors will be filled up.

The Public Engagement Commission on Spent Nuclear Fuel Management (Pecos), organized by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said on Thursday the government should find the site and start digging by 2020.

Underground research with trial burials should start in 2030, the commission said, and the construction of a permanent storage facility should be completed by 2051.

“The government should take full responsibility for managing highly-toxic spent nuclear fuel by putting its citizens’ safety at the top of its priorities,” said Hong Doo-seung, head of Pecos, at a press briefing at the Sejong Government Complex on Thursday. “We have recommended the government complete picking a site by 2020, so it doesn’t have much time. I think it should start finding the place as soon as possible because Korea is already behind schedule.”

The commission emphasized that it takes more time than people think to permanently bury spent nuclear fuel.

Used rods should be transported from each reactor’s cooling pools and cooled down for the next couple of decades at a pre-disposal storage site before being actually buried as deep as 500 meters.

Before burying them, an underground lab should be dug to ensure that the region is geologically suitable to prevent future leaks. Korea does not have the technologies or human resources to carry out such processes, the commission said.

Currently, spent plutonium rods are stored in a pool inside each reactor to cool them down. Such pools are expected to become full within a decade.

The cooling pool at the Gori reactor, the nation’s oldest, is expected to reach its capacity in 2016, followed by Wolsung in 2018, Hanbit in 2019, Hanwool in 2021 and Sinwolsung in 2022. Even if the fuel rods are moved closer to each other to fit more in, Gori will meets its saturation in 2028, Hanbit in 2024, Hanwool in 2026 and Sinwolsung in 2038.

“What’s most urgent is to start picking a place, do geological feasibility tests and build the pre-disposal storage facility, which takes up to seven years,” said Cho Seong-kyung, a professor at Myongji University and spokeswoman of Pecos.

The pre-disposal storage should be finished before 2041.

It is best to build all three facilities - pre-disposal storage, underground disposal research lab and actual underground storage -- in one region, Hong said.


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

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