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Waste problem in Korea

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(May 22, 1992) The disposal of radioactive waste is becoming a highly controversial issue in Korea. Nine reactors are now in operation and the waste is being stored at each site, but storage space will reach capacity within one to two years.

(372.3653) WISE Amsterdam - Total storage capacity for intermediate and low-level waste is about 60,000 drums (200 liters each) and as many as 32,000 drums have already been stored. At the Kori nuclear power plant, the oldest plant in Korea which started operation in 1978, 24,000 drums have been stored and the plant is close to its capacity of 32,000 drums.

Korea has so far chosen not to reprocess its spent fuel, also stored at the reactor sites which are now close to full capacity of about 3,300 drums. Fifteen hundred drums have now been stored and the situation is quite serious at the older reactors such as Kori and Wolsong.

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) is negotiating a reprocessing deal with South Korea, despite the fact that the country is on the UK Department of Trade and Industry's list of nuclear sensitive nations. (South Korea is one of 33 countries listed as sensitive destinations for nuclear exports because of "proliferation concerns and other criteria, including the risk of diversion and the lack of effective controls.") BNFL plans to set up an office in Seoul to market their range of services to the state-owned South Korean electricity company, Kepco. Should a reprocessing deal be struck, it could lead to one of two outcomes: either South Korean nuclear waste would be disposed of in the UK (despite the government's insistence that such deals contain a "return to sender" clause); or plutonium would be transferred to South Korea.

Japan, too, is looking at possibilities to reprocess South Korean spent fuel at its Rokkasho-mura facility. The plan, once rejected, recently resurfaced when the South Korean Minister of Science and Technology visited Japan in March and told the press there that his country might entrust its preprocessing to Rokkasho in future. (He had made a similar statement last November in the Korean diet but "corrected" it the next day after it was strongly criticized.)
Sources: Safe Energy (UK), Apr/May 1992; Nuke Info Tokyo, Mar/Apr 1992.

Hence the promoters of the plants hope to build an LLW (low-level waste) disposal site by 1995 and an HLW (high-level waste) permanent storage site by 1997. Last 27 December they announced six final planned sites for disposal. These are Kosong and Yangyang on the Japan Sea coast near the border, Uljin and Yong-il which have been chosen as reactor sites, Changjung near Cheju Island, and Anmyon Island where strong opposition previously stopped a plan announced in 1990. The reason why this island was chosen again is that the ground is geologically stable and 70% of the land is owned by the country. But again the local islanders are furious over the government's announcement.

After abandoning the plan in 1990, the government tried to buy off some of the local people and chose the island as a site again in November 1991. But the islanders refused again, and now feel they have been deceived twice by the government. From the moment the latest plan was announced, strong protests have been taking place at every site. At Yong-il, protesters began a sit-in at the county office on the day the plan was announced, and demonstrations and street occupations have continued ever since. At Anmyon island a rally was held on the day of the announcement and the following day about 1,500 people showed up and staged a strong protest despite police use of tear gas. On 7 January, 10,000 people gathered and showed their strength while protests and rallies are taking place at the other planned sites as well. The Government will probably make a final announcement soon, following the federal election held in March.

Source: Reprinted from Nuke Info Tokyo, Mar/Apr 1992, p.7.

Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, 302 Daini Take Bldg. 1-59-14 Higashi-nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164, Japan; tel: +81-3-5330-9520; fax: +81-3-5330-9530.