March 29, 2013 11:49
Nuclear power plants in Korea produce around 700 tons of spent fuel annually that is stored in temporary facilities in power plants, and they will soon be full, starting with the Gori reactor in 2016.
The government is trying to pack as much waste fuel into the storage facilities as possible. Last year, it also tried to build an intermediary storage facility outside of the reactors, but no one wanted it in their back yard.
Also, intermediate storage facilities have life spans of only a few decades, which means the spent nuclear fuel must be reprocessed eventually to obtain more storage space.
But the existing civil nuclear pact with the U.S. prohibits Korea from reprocessing its own spent fuel and from enriching uranium to make its own nuclear fuel.
Each year, Korea imports around 4,000 tons of yellow cake, the seed material for higher-grade nuclear enrichment, from Australia and other countries, which is then sent to a foreign company for enrichment in order to be used as fuel here. Korea spends W900 billion (US$1=W1,114) a year on the process.
When Seoul and Washington signed the nuclear pact in 1974, Korea was just building its first commercial nuclear power plant in Gori. Now, Korea is the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power plant user with 23 reactors. That has led to a rise in costs to enrich uranium.
The government has been pushing since the mid-2000s to reduce such costs by buying stakes in foreign nuclear fuel-enrichment companies. But the pact with the U.S. makes it impossible for Korea to be involved in their management or acquire relevant technology.
That has led to increasingly urgent efforts by Korea to revise the nuclear pact, but Washington seems determined to keep the thumb on proliferation.
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