Nation can’t afford to postpone selecting site
A government advisory panel has proposed building an intermediate storage facility for spent nuclear fuel by 2024. Upon the request, the government will determine its basic policy on this matter by the end of the year after pooling opinions from various walks of life.
The proposal is a belated but desperately needed one, given that temporary storage units at the nation’s four nuclear power plants will reach saturation point from 2016 through 2021. Currently, about 700 tons of spent nuclear fuel are produced a year in the country’s 22 nuclear reactors.
But actions speak louder than words. This is all the more so, considering that it took nearly 20 years to secure a site for medium- and low-level radioactive materials, which are far less dangerous than high-level nuclear waste that refers to spent nuclear fuel.
We vividly remember how serious the social conflict was concerning the choice of the site for medium- and low-level radioactive materials. In this respect, it’s not too much to ask the government to exercise the highest prudence in selecting a location.
That’s because at least four years are needed before the storage site is designated after undergoing a complicated process ― an advance survey for the facility, a contest among candidate locations, selection of the optimal site, public hearings and a residents’ referendum. If the six-year construction period is added, at least 10 years are needed before the intermediate storage facility is completed. France has yet to decide on a site for spent nuclear fuel although the European country embarked on its selection process in the late 1980s.
Earlier, we urged the United States to grant South Korea authority to reprocess its own nuclear fuel rods in consideration of the ever worsening space problem for nuclear waste. Most recently, the Korean government has reportedly given up persuading the U.S. with regard to the issue of renewing their bilateral nuclear treaty that expires in March 2014.
Once again, we emphasize the urgent need for the U.S. to let South Korea reprocess its fuel rods.
True, it’s deplorable that past governments have been negligent in choosing the venue for spent nuclear fuel. The Roh Moo-hyun administration gave up its bid to build a combined storage facility for low-, medium- and high-level radioactive materials after being burned because of tough protests in Buan, North Jeolla Province, in 2003. Instead, Gyeongju, North Gyengsang Province, was chosen as the venue that would stockpile only medium- and low-level materials in 2005 after residents consented to the proposal.
As far as the storage site is concerned, the Lee Myung-bak administration also deserves harsh criticism in that it belatedly set in motion the highly sensitive issue with less than seven months remaining before the end of its term.
As things stand, the nation can’t afford to postpone selecting the storage location. The government should start the process as soon as possible. If not, it could spell a disaster for the country as a whole.