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» South Korea facing the shortage of nuclear waste storage

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

The 23 nuclear reactors in Asia’s fourth-biggest economy add a total of 750 tons of spent fuel every year to the 13,300 tons that filled 71 percent of its wet and dry storage capacity as of last year, according to reactor operator Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. Ltd., owned by state-run Korea Electric Power Corp.

That means storage could fill up by 2021, with some pools in danger of reaching capacity by the end of 2016.

Seoul hopes to win time by stacking spent fuel more densely in those concrete-covered pools next to reactor buildings, and by moving waste to pools at 11 new power plants that are set to be built by 2024.

But experts warn that leaving spent fuel in water could be fraught with danger, even in a country that is not anywhere near as seismically active as Japan. They note that the buildings that house pools are typically not as strong as those that hold reactors, which have steel vessels inside concrete domes.

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.

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.

<Media Report>
As nuclear waste piles up, South Korea faces storage crisis (Japan Times)

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