OP#16: Rethinking Spent Fuel Management in South Korea

April 10, 2013
Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, Miles Pomper, Stephanie Lieggi, Charles McCombie, Neil Chapman

Occasional Paper #16

Read the full Occasional Paper #16:
Rethinking Spent Fuel Management in South Korea

The Nuclear Energy Repercussion

Rethinking Spent Fuel Management in South Korea: Concrete vault for radioactive waste (Netherlands) iStockphoto

Concrete vault for radioactive waste (Netherlands), iStock.com

South Korea, currently the world’s fifth-largest nuclear energy producer, is in the process of becoming a major nuclear power plant exporter. Although South Korea has benefited economically and developmentally from its active nuclear power sector, this reliance on nuclear energy over the last three decades has brought about one very negative consequence: an accumulation of spent nuclear fuel.


To cope with its spent fuel dilemma, South Korea has been looking at the possibility of reprocessing called pyroprocessing, which aims to burn long-lived actinides in a fleet of yet-to-be-built fast reactors. Currently, under the U.S.-ROK nuclear cooperation agreement, South Korea is restricted from reprocessing spent fuel. That agreement has now been extended by two years, and the two sides are in negotiations for another 40-year agreement. Seoul would like to get Washington’s approval to construct new facilities to test the economic and technical feasibility of pyroprocessing and then commercially operate such facilities. U.S officials have resisted granting this approval.

It is important to note that both sides of the discussion continue to see pyroprocessing as in the developmental stage and do not have sufficient information to determine if it is appropriate for the larger throughput required to effectively minimize South Korea’s spent fuel inventories. In addition, the more urgent issue is dealing with the accumulation of spent fuel stored in spent fuel pools which will saturate over the next decade.


Based on the research undertaken for this report, CNS can put forth a number of recommendations for national approaches to spent fuel disposition in South Korea which are discussed in detail in the broader report. Here are some of the recommendations:

  • Educate communities near current reactor sites about the safety and security benefits of dry cask storage.
  • Explore option of transferring spent fuel from older to newer reactor ponds, including to sites outside the original reactor’s jurisdiction.
  • Undertake an active engagement program with communities considered appropriate for hosting storage facilities.
  • Develop and publicize a national strategy and accompanying roadmap, leading credibly after several decades to a national repository, should no other viable options be developed in the intervening period.
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