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S. Korea's first nuclear repository goes into operation

South Korea's first dedicated nuclear repository has gone into operation in a city in the southeastern part of the country by receiving the first shipment of intermediate level waste, its operator said Friday.

   Korea Radioactive Waste Management Corp. (KRMC) said its Gyeongju facility, located 371 kilometers southeast of Seoul, has secured 1,000 drums of disposed materials from the Uljin nuclear power plant on the east coast. It said because the permanent underground tunnel facility has not been completed, the drums will be held at a temporary outdoor holding area.

   "The waste can be held safely in the temporary holding area until the underground facility is completed in late 2012," the corporation said.

   To alleviate health concerns, the level of radiation that comes out of the waste will be kept below 6 millisieverts (mSv) on an annual basis, which is lower than the 6.9 mSv a person can be exposed to if he or she is given an X-ray or CAT scan, it said.

   The company said there are six scanners around the holding area that can immediately inform people in the neighboring area of any sudden changes in radiation levels.

   Besides the waste that will come from Uljin, the Gyeongju repository is designed to receive all intermediate-level waste from South Korea's three other nuclear power plants in Gori, Wolsong and Yeonggwang. The country currently has 20 commercial reactors generating about 40 percent of its electricity.

   Under existing plans, the repository will receive 9,000 drums of waste every year, with each shipment being 1,000 drums.

   The corporation, meanwhile, said work on the 2.1-square-kilometer facility that began in April 2008 is about 71 percent complete. Once completed, it will hold up to 800,000 drums of waste, such as protective gloves worn at nuclear power plants, radioactive filters and various X-ray byproducts used in hospitals.

   The repository is not designed to hold high-grade nuclear waste, such as spent fuel rods.

(Yonhap News)