Spent Nuclear Fuel Looms Large Ahead of Korea-U.S. Pact Talks

GNP policy-making committee chief advocates Korea's treatment of spent nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes







Rep. Choi Gu-sik, chairman of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP)'s Sixth Policy Coordination Committee, is the most active of the parliamentarians who advocate that Korea should be allowed to treat spent nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes.
"the nation's spent nuclear fuel storage facilities are going to be full to capacity in 2016, thus the Korea-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement should be revised in a way that Korea can secure the authority to treat spent nuclear fuel for peaceful uses," Rep. Choi said. Choi renewed his stance on the necessity to revise the Korea-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which is to expire in 2014, during a policy forum that took place at the National Assembly Library on March 9 under the theme, "Spent Nuclear Fuel: Issues and Tasks."
He repeated his stance on the issue again this time at a forum Choi organized himself. While dealing with a wide range of policies in the science and technology sector as the ruling party's policy coordination committee chairman, Choi has publicly raised the issue. It was Rep. Choi who made an official request for the presidential office at Cheong Wa Dae to put the issue on a list of topics for the Korea-U.S. summit shortly before President Lee Myung-bak embarked on a state visit to the United States last June.
Regarding the background of his assertion, he said that the amount of spent nuclear fuel piling up from the operation of 20 nuclear power units at the nation's four nuclear power complexes Kori, Wolsong, Yongkwang and Ulchin stand at more than 10,000 tons, and are out of Korea's reach even though 90 percent of the radwaste can be reused through reprocessing. His rationale is that Korea should reinstate its rights over all cycles of nuclear power ranging from the mining of uranium to the enriching and manufacturing of nuclear fuel, its use and reprocessing after initial use, since they are made for peaceful purposes and not for producing nuclear arms.
The Korea-U.S. nuclear pact, signed in 1970 and taking into consideration U.S. worries over nuclear proliferation, stipulates a ban on Korea's reprocessing of radioactive materials, a key issue Korea and the United States will take up during the upcoming talks on the possible revision of the nuclear pact between the two sides.
As the Korean political community has recently raised the issue over nuclear reprocessing, the United States has apparently taken an initially negative stance. However, U.S. Amb. to Korea Kathleen Stephens reportedly indicated a possible change of attitude, saying a consensus could possibly be reached.
During the latest parliamentary discussion, Shin Dong-ik, director general of the International Organization Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said the Korean government seeks to move toward the expansion of the nation's rights over the further use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes while clearing away U.S. misgivings over nuclear proliferation. Kim Young-pyung, chairman of the Korea Nuclear Power Policy Forum and chair of the seminar, said Korea needs more room to leverage its position during the revision of the Korea-U.S. nuclear pact and both sides should find common ground in such areas as joint research.
Kang Young-chul, director general of the Atomic Energy Bureau at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, introduced pyro-processing, a technology Korea is now developing for treating spent nuclear fuel, saying that Korea is seeking to revise the Korea-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in a way that R&D activities of pyro-processing and other future nuclear technologies can be facilitated.
Moon Jae-do, director general of energy resources development at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, said, "The government has so far not only made efforts to make a low- and medium-grade radwaste treatment facility, but also conducted activities to build a public consensus toward spent nuclear fuel." The Conflict Management Committee under the control of the National Energy Committee discussed and made suggestions on ways to build a public consensus during the period between 2007 and 2008 while the nation established legal foundation for building a public consensus with the revision of the Act on the Management of Radioactive Waste, he added.
Afterward, Moon said, the government will focus on building a common ground among experts' groups after studying on spent nuclear fuel in the scientific and technological perspective, and experts's technological assessment needs to precede the formation of a public consensus in order to minimize possible unnecessary conflicts. He noted that the government plans to explore short-, medium- and long-term options on the management of spent nuclear fuel after building a common ground among experts in order to establish a related roadmap and final management policies.
Min Gye-hong, president of Korea Radioactive Waste Management Corp., maintained that Korea should devote itself to ensuring the early commercialization of futuristic nuclear systems and treatment technologies, including pyro-processing, and that the Korea-U.S. nuclear pact should be revised so that Korea can facilitate its nuclear power activities without a hitch.
Min said only Finland and Sweden has secured a site for the construction of a facility for direct reatment of spent nuclear fuel, but most of other countries face difficulty in the selection of a site for a repository due to conflicts over public acceptance. Korea is also expected to hit a stumbling block in securing a site for a temporary warehouse for spent nuclear fuel, so it would have to spend much more time and efforts in securing a site for an in-between warehouse for high-grade radwaste. In this regard, he said, the corporation plans to make seamless preparations for the treatment of spent nuclear fuel and high-grade radwaste by embarking on the development of technologies to treat the radewaste.
Min stressed that even though the government is to decide on the direction of the management of spent nuclear fuel based on the outcomes of a research survey commissioned to research groups, it is necessary to brace for the long-standing delay of the decision on spent nuclear to implement the linkage between the expansion of temporary storages within nuclear power complexes and in-between stockpiling of spent nuclear fuel in a short-term perspective in order to ensure a stable operation of nuclear power units.
Cho Byung-uk, chief of the Nuclear Policy Division at Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., said the Korea-U.S. nuclear pact should be amended in such a way that Korea can ensure a stable supply of nuclear fuel and flexibility toward policies on nuclear cycles in keeping with the government's policy to raise the portion of nuclear power in power generation. The revision, he said, needs to be made so prior approval of integrated nuclear cycle programs can be secured by taking their cue from the revision of the U.S.-Japan nuclear energy agreement. He said the nation also needs to make efforts to improve nuclear transparency to the international community and raise confidence-building on policies so as to clear away the U.S. worries. nw

Rep. Choi Gu-sik, chairman of the ruling Grand National Party's Sixth Policy Coordination Committee, speaks at a forum organized by Rep. Choi.

Experts, including Min Gye-hong, president of Korea Radioactive Waste Management Corp.,and Moon Jae-do, director general of energy resources development at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, have brisk discussions on spent nuclear fuel at a forum at the National Assembly Building on March 9.

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