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South Korea Running Out of Storage Facilities for Nuclear Waste

RIA Novosti, PUBLISHED 14.10.2014

According to Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co Ltd, which operates large nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, the countrys 23 reactors produce 750 metric tons of spent fuel every year. It has already filled 71% of its 13,300 metric ton wet and dry storage capacity.

The companys estimates predict that the storage facilities could be completely full by 2021, with some pools to reach the full capacity already being used by the end of 2016.

The temporary decision is to stack spent fuel more densely in the concrete-covered pools, which were originally intended to hold it for five or six years, and then to move the waste to pools at 11 new power plants, which are set to be built by 2024.

But experts warn that there are certain risks associated with leaving spent fuel in water, as the buildings that house these pools are not as strong as the buildings which house the reactors, which feature steel vessels inside concrete domes.

"Spent fuel in a concrete building next to reactor buildings is vulnerable to missile or other attacks from the outside," Reuters quotes one of its sources as saying, without revealing his name.

The expert also added that stacking fuel more densely would compound any risk, as it would reduce air circulation.

"Air circulation helps lower the chances of a spent fuel meltdown if water drains or water-cooling pumps are broken, when hit by a natural disaster or a terror attack," he was quoted as saying.

Government officials have not commented on the issue.

Reuters presents another medium-tem solution - to store spent fuel in metal and concrete-covered dry casks which are able to hold them for up to 100 years. The agency calculated an approximate cost of such construction, based on industry figures, it may amount to $2.6 billion. However, it would be quite hard to persuade people to live next to such facilities.

A medium-term, safer solution could be to store the spent fuel in metal containers, which could hold it temporarily.. Building casks for the country's existing spent fuel would too much, according to Reuters calculations, based on industry figures.

Persuading people to live next to such facilities would be a huge task in an Indiana-sized country with a population of 50 million, with many already bitter about the presence of reactors.

So-called pyroprocessing technology might be a long-term solution. The United States and South Korea are currently working together to develop the technology to produce nuclear energy without separating plutonium, meaning any waste would be burnt away in special reactors.

But it is still a distant prospect with a technological feasibility study to be completed only by 2020.

Topics: Spent Fuel, Asia, South Korea

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