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No solution in sight, to South Korea’s mounting tonnes of radioactive trash

text-wise-owlflag-S-KoreaAs Nuclear Waste Piles Up, South Korea Faces Storage Crisis, Scientific American, 14 Oct 14 Among the usual commercials for beer, noodles and cars on South Korean TV, one item stands in marked contrast. By Meeyoung Cho SEOUL (Reuters) – Among the usual commercials for beer, noodles and cars on South Korean TV, one item stands in marked contrast.

A short film by a government advisory body carries a stark message: the nation faces a crisis over storing its spent nuclear fuel after running reactors for decades.

The world’s fifth-largest user of nuclear power has around 70 percent, or nearly 9,000 tonnes, of its used fuel stacked in temporary storage pools originally intended to hold it for five or six years, with some sites due to fill by the end of 2016.

It plans to cram those sites with more fuel than they were originally intended to hold while it looks for a permanent solution, suggesting little has been learned from the Fukushima disaster in neighboring Japan.

In the Fukushima crisis in 2011, the storage of large amounts of spent nuclear fuel in elevated pools posed a threat of massive radioactive release on top of meltdowns at three reactors. Spent fuel rods heated up after a quake knocked out water-cooling pumps, underlining the dangers of holding troves of radioactive material in relatively exposed cooling ponds.

“We cannot keep stacking waste while dragging our feet,” said Park Ji-young, director of the science and technology unit at respected think tank the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

“If we fail to reach a conclusion (on how to manage spent fuel), it would be time to debate if we should stop nuclear power generation.” With South Koreans still spooked by Fukushima and a scandal at home over fake safety certificates for nuclear equipment, the commission has its work cut out to come up with more than a temporary fix to the storage crunch in a report due by year-end………..

OUT OF FAVOR

A permanent solution remains elusive, with experts dismissing as unrealistic hopes that Seoul will be able to revise a 40-year-old nuclear agreement with Washington so it can reprocess spent fuel.

U.S. and South Korean government officials declined to comment on the issue.

Reprocessing is a costly and technologically challenging solution that has fallen out of favor in Britain, France and elsewhere.

It is also diplomatically thorny given concerns about nuclear proliferation, especially on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

A medium-term, safer solution could be to store spent fuel in metal and concrete-covered dry casks, which could hold it for up to 100 years. Building casks for the country’s existing spent fuel would cost up to $2.6 billion, according to Reuters calculations based on industry figures.

But 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.

“As a resident, we are concerned as we live near such dangerous materials,” said a woman who runs a sushi restaurant 10 km (6 miles) from the country’s oldest nuclear reactor near the southeast coast. She did not give her name.

“It is hard to know the situation at the reactor as we usually learn of any developments via media reports.”

Underlining the difficulty authorities face winning over the public is the case of a new site to store low- and medium-level radioactive waste such as contaminated clothing and tools. The facility, in the southeastern city of Gyeongju, is yet to open after years of delay as opponents questioned its safety.

In Samcheok, another southeastern city, 85 percent of nearly 29,000 participants in a non-binding ballot last Thursday voted against plans to launch a new reactor, emphasizing anti-nuclear sentiment in the country. ……..http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/as-nuclear-waste-piles-up-south-korea-faces-storage-crisis/

October 15, 2014 - Posted by | South Korea, wastes

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