March 15, 2010 09:51
South Korea recently started constructing a test facility for a sodium-cooled fast reactor capable of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel without generating weapons-grade plutonium, an official at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute said Sunday. The move seeks to get around a clause in the Korea-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement that bans Seoul from reprocessing its own nuclear fuel. The agreement expires in 2014.
KAERI said it started constructing the W30 billion (US$1=W1,129) experimental facility last month at a science research and development center in Daedeok, Daejeon, and plans to complete construction in 2014. The facility contains a 1:125 scale reactor enabling researchers to conduct tests under identical pressure or temperature conditions as a real reactor. KAERI plans to use the research data to build a full-scale facility by 2028.
The country's capacity to store spent nuclear fuel is reaching its limit. As of the end of last year, South Korea had over 10,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel, and the amount is increasing some 700 tons every year. "We've been storing spent nuclear fuel at Gori and Wolseong nuclear power plants, but the facilities will be completely full by 2016," a government official said. "We can't build more storage facilities since residents oppose them, so the sodium-cooled fast reactor is the best way to deal with this problem." China, France, Japan, the U.S. and other advanced countries plan to put similar reactors into operation around 2030.
It remains to be seen how the U.S. will react, since Washington is against South Korea's move to develop the technology, citing the impact it may have on efforts to scrap North Korea's nuclear weapons program. A senior South Korean official said the process will be entirely transparent "to gain the understanding and support of the international community."
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