At a meeting on October 28, policymakers from South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and Finland's Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment discussed ways to cooperate in developing technologies and preparing policies related to the disposal of high-level radioactive waste, along with technology exchanges and joint research and development.
"In order to actively utilize nuclear power plants, securing high-level radioactive waste disposal sites is essential for public safety," Park Dong-il, a ministry official in charge of nuclear power policy, said in a statement. "We will push for a high-level radioactive waste disposal site with scientific safety and residents' acceptability through close cooperation with Finland, a leading country in the same field."
Park's office said that Finland expressed its willingness to cooperate in the development of technologies at all stages, from site selection to transportation, storage and disposal, citing Posiva, a Finnish company that builds the world's first deep geological repository for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel. The Onkalo facility at a depth of up to 520 meters in the granite bedrock will be operational in 2023 to place fuel assemblies into a boron steel canister and enclose it in a copper capsule. Each capsule will be overpacked with bentonite clay.
The Seoul government wants to benchmark the Finnish repository, which is large enough to accept canisters of spent fuel for around one hundred years, and construct a permanent storage site until around 2060, but the question is how the government can win public consent. South Korea has been locked in an endless debate over how to handle piles of spent nuclear fuel rods. Nuclear waste is a stringent issue due to a U.S. ban on reprocessing to prevent potential proliferation in Northeast Asia.
Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), the state-run operator of 24 nuclear power plants, has called for a quick solution, saying storage facilities would have no more space to store nuclear waste. Some experts such as Song Jong-soon, a professor of nuclear engineering at Chosun University, have called for an intermediate storage system because it takes up to 40 years to establish permanent disposal facilities deep underground.
For technical and political reasons, South Korea has no intermediate storage or permanent disposal facilities. Spent fuel rods are first kept in interim storage pools of water, which provide cooling and shielding against radiation. After 7 to 10 years in wet storage, they can be transferred to dry storage such as concrete canisters, modular air-cooled canister storage (MACSTOR) units, and dry storage containers.
KHNP warns that temporary storage facilities at its main nuclear power complex in Gori near the southern port city of Busan will be saturated in 2031, calling for the quick construction of additional facilities.
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