South Korea should start preparing for permanent disposal of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel by picking the site for a proving ground and interim storage by at least 2020, a public debate commission said Thursday.
The Public Engagement Commission on Spent Nuclear Fuel Management also recommended the country begin permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel by 2051.
"The commission has recommended that spent nuclear fuel that is currently stored in temporary storage facilities be moved to safer storage facilities before the capacity or operation license of temporary facilities run out, along with a recommendation that the government act under the principle guideline that places top priority on public safety," it said in a press release.
To this end, the commission recommended the government begin related research for permanent, underground disposal of spent nuclear fuel in 2030.
For the start of such research and safe in-between storage of spent nuclear fuel, the commission said the country must pick the site for an underground research laboratory and interim storage facilities by 2020.
"While recommending the government start operating a permanent disposal facility by 2051, the commission proposed the government pick the site for an underground research lab by 2020 in the same area for the permanent disposal facility or in other areas that have similar qualifications to those of the area for the permanent disposal facility," it said.
Hong Doo-seung, head of the public debate commission, later said the commission's recommendation was to build an underground research laboratory and a proving ground at or around the same place for permanent disposal.
"The commission expresses its hope that the site for the underground research laboratory be placed in the same area for the facility for permanent disposal," he told a press briefing.
The recommendation, if accepted and carried out by the government, will mean the country may pick the site for permanent disposal of its spent nuclear fuel by 2020.
Thursday's recommendations follow nearly 20 months of public debate that included international seminars and town hall meetings on how the country should dispose its spent nuclear fuel.
A final report of the commission will be submitted before the end of the month to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, with possible changes to the reported recommendations, according to the public debate commission.
"These recommendations are the outcome of collecting public opinions under a legal process for the first time in the country's history," Hong said.
South Korea currently operates 23 nuclear reactors that generate about 30 percent of the country's overall electricity supply, along with about 750 tons of spent nuclear fuel each year.
Another 11 nuclear reactors are already under construction or will be so in the near future while the country's latest biennial power supply plan proposed building two more nuclear plants by 2030, which will bring the total number of nuclear reactors to 36 by that year. (Yonhap)