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Seoul, Washington agree to start joint study on nuclear fuel reprocessing

South Korea and the U.S. have agreed to carry out a joint study on safe ways to store spent nuclear fuel, including exploring the feasibility of pyroprocessing technology, the government said Sunday.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said the two sides agreed to conduct two years of preliminary storage-related research up till 2012 that is technologically and economically viable, and does not undermine global nonproliferation efforts.

The research is the first part of a three-stage, 10-year cooperative program agreed upon in Washington last October.

It said officials who met in New Mexico last week concurred that a long-term, safe and economically sustainable storage system is needed to cope with the growing amount of nuclear fuel.

“The two sides will review pyroprocessing of fuel from light water reactors, development of advanced safety technologies and comprehensive ways of dealing with spent fuel,” the ministry said

South Korea, which currently operates 21 commercial reactors, has 10,000 tons of highly radioactive waste held in temporary storage areas at the country’s four nuclear reactors. Such holding areas, however, are expected to reach full capacity around 2016, making it imperative for a more permanent solution to be found.

Seoul had been looking into pyroprocessing since 1997 as a way to reduce the size of spent fuel and make storage safer. It says that the process is relatively safe because it stores processed plutonium with various other elements. By doing so, it makes it harder for plutonium to be used to make nuclear weapons.

Critics, however, have countered that pyroprocessing is basically not much different from conventional reprocessing and that such a step by Seoul will hurt ongoing nonproliferation efforts. 

(Yonhap News)
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