Political parties at odds over special act on high-level radioactive waste

2023.11.20 14:40:02 | 2023.11.20 18:14:59

The Shin-Kori 3, 4 [Courtesy of the Nuclear Safety And Security Commission]이미지 확대

The Shin-Kori 3, 4 [Courtesy of the Nuclear Safety And Security Commission]

A bill to establish a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste is pending at the National Assembly in South Korea due to opposition from the Democratic Party, pouring cold water on the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s plan to abolish the nuclear phase-out policy.

According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Sunday, the National Assembly’s Trade, Industry, Energy, SMEs and Startups Committee will hold a bill review subcommittee on Wednesday to examine a special act on high-level radioactive waste management.

If the bill does not pass the subcommittee this week, it is unlikely to be passed until the 22nd National Assembly comes in after next year’s general election.

Given the legislative process where the bill goes through the Legislation and Judiciary Committee before it is presented at the plenary session, the bill, if fails to pass the subcommittee this month, will not be able to pass the plenary session and be automatically scrapped in May next year, when the 21st National Assembly’s term ends.

The special act provides the basis for the creation of an interim storage facility and a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste, including spent nuclear fuel.

It also covers a site selection process, establishing an organization in charge, and measures to support regions where sites are located.

Since its introduction, the bill has gone through 14 meetings of the relevant standing committee but has been pending as the ruling and opposition parties continue to disagree over the capacity of the interim storage facility and permanent repository.

The government sees that the saturation of interim nuclear fuel storage at currently operating nuclear power plants will begin from 2030 at the latest.

Initially, the Kori Nuclear Power Plant was expected to saturate the earliest at 2028, but it was delayed by about three years with the installation of a dense storage unit.

The Hanbit Nuclear Power Plant, with a storage rate of 78.7 percent as of the third quarter this year, is expected to reach a saturation point in 2030 and Hanul Nuclear Power Plant in 2031.

Considering that it takes at least seven years to build a temporary storage facility, Korea may face a situation where it cannot operate nuclear power plants although they exist.

Experts stress that a special act needs to be enacted to also resolve the volatility of energy policy.

“There is a strong international consensus that countries should handle high-level waste such as spent nuclear fuel on their own,” said Yun Jong-il, professor of nuclear and quantum engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).

“Enacting a special law is a prerequisite for this,” Yun said. “It is urgent for the ruling and opposition parties to agree on the bill, as it is an issue that needs to be handled with continuity regardless of the administration.”

By Lee Jin-han and Choi Jieun

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