Radioactive waste (RAW) management strategy, practice and issues

The safe management of RAW is recognized as an essential national task for sustainable generation of nuclear energy and for energy self-reliance in South Korea. Since the early 1980s, the Korean government has attempted to prepare a disposal site for safe management of RAW but failed to secure one due to lack of public consensus and acceptance. In this context, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) of the Korean government, the highest decision-making body for nuclear energy policy, approved the ‘National

Radioactive Waste Management Policy’ at the 249th meeting held on Sep­tember 30, 1998. This policy stipulated that a LILW facility would be con­structed and operated by 2008 and a centralized spent fuel interim storage facility by 2016. The key principles of the national policy on radioactive waste management are as follows:

• direct control by the government

• safety as top priority

• minimization of waste generation

• ‘polluter pays’ principle

• transparency for site selection process.

However, a revision of the government policy was made at the 253rd AEC meeting on December 17, 2004, after the government failed repeatedly to find a candidate site for the radioactive waste management complex. There­fore, a new government plan for radioactive waste management was announced, basically to separate the sites for the LILW disposal facility and the spent fuel interim storage facility instead of constructing both facilities on one site. The LILW disposal facility is now being constructed in Gyeongju after local referenda. Conversely, the key decision to directly dispose of or recycle spent fuel has not yet been made in Korea. Spent fuel is currently stored at reactor sites under the responsibility of Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP), because the 253rd AEC meeting stipulated that the national policy for spent fuel management will be decided later, taking account of domestic and international technological developments.

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