Rep. of Korea, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#746, 747, 748
Waste special
01/05/2012
Article

Korea, Republic of

Nr. of reactors

first grid connection

% of total electricity 

23

1977-06-26

34.64%

Low and intermediate-level waste is stored at the sub-surface Gyeongju LILW repository at a depth of 80 meters. Korea dumped low-level waste in the Sea of Japan 5 times from 1968-1972.(*01) High-level waste is stored at the reactor sites, pending construction of a centralized interim storage facility (possibly by 2016). No date for operation of a final disposal facility has been established, although long-term, deep geological disposal is envisaged. Whether this is for used fuel as such or reprocessing wastes depends on national policy and will be decided later.(*02)

The Atomic Energy Act of 1988 established a 'polluter pays' principle under which nuclear power plant operators paid a fee into a national Nuclear Waste Management Fund. A revised waste program was drawn up by the Nuclear Environment Technology Institute and approved by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1998.(*03)

South Korea’s key national laws relating to spent fuel and radioactive waste management are the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and the Radioactive Waste Management Act (RWMA). The AEA provides for safety regulations and licensing for  construction and operation of radioactive-waste disposal facilities. The RWMA, which was announced in 2008, and enacted in March 2010, established the Korea Radioactive Waste Management Corporation (KRMC) and the Radioactive Waste Management Fund in which KHNP, the nuclear utility company, annually deposits funds for decommissioning its nuclear power plants, disposing of their LILW, and managing their spent fuel.(*04) KHNP now contributes a fee of 900,000 won (US$ 705) per kilogram of used fuel.(*05)

Reprocessing, either domestic or overseas, is not possible under constraints imposed by the country's cooperation agreement with the USA.(*06)  Reprocessing will be central at the renewal negotiations of the agreement in 2014. KHNP has considered offshore reprocessing to be too expensive, and recent figures based on Japanese contracts with Areva in France support this view, largely due to transport costs. (*07)

Low and intermediate level waste
South Korea’s attempts to site a central interim spent-fuel storage facility and repository for low and intermediate level waste (LILW) began in 1986. During the following decades, a number of failed attempts to acquire sites to host such facilities, due to fierce local opposition (*08) despite steadily growing incentive offers, (*09) were made.  In December 2004, therefore, the AEC decided to pursue separate sites for the LILW repository and the central interim spent-fuel storage facility, starting with the LILW site, which was seen as politically easier. In March 2005, a Special Act on Support for Areas Hosting Low and Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility was passed that guaranteed a local government hosting the national LILW facility an exemption from hosting a spent-fuel storage facility. The central government required a local referendum on hosting the facility and offered more incentives.

Success was finally achieved. Four cities competed to host the facility and Gyeongju City won after 89.5 percent of its voters approved hosting the site in November 2005. (*10) Construction started in April 2008 and in December 2010 KRWM commenced operation of the facility, accepting the first 1000 drums of wastes, which will be held in outdoor storage until the underground repository itself is commissioned in 2012. (*11)

SF-storage, temporarily or interim?
Dry storage for spent fuel has already been built at the Wolsong site, and more is being built there. Some argue that this is illegal because the national low- and intermediate-level waste repository is adjacent to the Wolsong nuclear power plant and, according to the 2005 Special Act on Support for Areas Hosting Low and Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility, the same community cannot be required to host both the national LILW repository and interim spent fuel storage facilities. The KRMC argues, however, that the on-site dry storage facilities at Wolsong are “temporary,” not the “interim” storage that is banned by the special Act.

A major reason for South Korea’s political failures in siting a central spent-fuel storage site was that its early site-selection process did not include consultation with local communities. Instead, the central government selected sites based on its own assessments, met strong opposition from the proposed host region, and gave up. (*12)

In April 2007, after the success in siting the LILW repository, a task force was established to design a process to achieve a public consensus on spent fuel management. Based on the task force’s report, in July 2009, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) established a committee to manage the process. A month later, however, the process was suspended and MKE announced that a legal framework and a solicitation of expert opinion were required first. An expert group composed of members of South Korea’s nuclear establishment was instructed to carry out a year-long research project during 2010 as a basis for the public consensus process.(*13)

If it is to be credible, however, such a public consensus process for spent fuel management will have to be open and transparent and involve local communities and independent experts. Whether or not the public consensus process will in fact be finally launched remains to be seen.

KURT
The R&D program on the disposal technology of high-level radioactive waste was initiated in 1997. After 10 years into the research program, a reference disposal system called the Korea Reference System (KRS) was formulated in 2006 on the basis of the results of the R&D program, which included performance and safety assessment, and studies on the geo-environmental conditions in Korea, an engineered barrier system, and the migration of radionuclides.

For the validation of the KRS, a project for constructing a generic underground research tunnel in a crystalline rock called the Korea Underground Research Tunnel (KURT) started in 2003. Following the site characterization study, the tunnel design, and the construction licensing, the construction of the KURT located at the KAERI site started in May 2005. Controlled drill and blasting techniques were applied to excavate a 6m wide, 6m high and 255m long horseshoe-shaped tunnel with a 10% downward slope. After the completion of this construction of the KURT in November 2006, various in-situ tests are being carried out for the validation of HLW disposal techniques. (*14) The third phase of R&D study ended in February 2007 and phase four is underway. The Korean reference disposal system to accommodate all kinds of wastes from the advanced fuel cycle will be developed. And key technologies developed in third phase will be verified.(*15)

The KURT facility will not need to use radioactive sources to validate HLW approaches which are strictly prohibited by law. Rather, the facility will conduct a series of experiments to investigate “groundwater flow and rock mass characteristics” which with the participation of the local population could help to build trust.(*16)

Lithuania

Nr. of reactors

first grid connection

% of total electricity 

0

1983-12-31

0.00%

The last reactor at the nuclear power plant in Lithuania, Ignalina, was closed permanently on 31 December 2010. The shutdown of the two Soviet-designed RBMK reactors was a condition of the accession to the European Union. The EU has agreed to pay decommissioning costs for the two RBMK reactors and some compensation through to 2013. Unit 1 of the Ignalina plant was shut at the end of 2004. (*01) Currently Lithuania is actively pursuing the construction of a new nuclear power plant: Visaginas. This is expected to operate from 2020 and is to be built in collaboration with Estonia, Latvia and Poland. However, in December 2011, Poland withdrew from the project. (*02)

All spent fuel is stored on site of Ignalina. First storage pools near the reactor and interim dry storage in the detached facility, where the spent fuel is stored in the same casks it is transported. It was intended to store the fuel unloaded from the reactor for several years and then to transfer it for processing to Russia. According to the Law on Environmental Protection (1992, last amended 2003), the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel is prohibited. After that a decision was made to build a dry type interim storage for spent nuclear fuel at INPP and store it for 50 years.

The 2008 revised Strategy on Radioactive Waste Management, includes the construction of a new spent fuel interim storage facility; the transfer of spent fuel to the dry storage facilities; and to analyze the possibilities to dispose spent fuel and long-lived radioactive waste in Lithuania or to reprocess or dispose it in other countries.

Future strategy
Initial studies on geological disposal possibilities of the spent fuel were performed. The main objective was to demonstrate that in principle it is possible to implement a direct disposal in a safe way. The objective does not imply that disposal of spent fuel will take place in Lithuania. Which option shall be used for the potential disposal of spent fuel is to a large extent a political decision, and this investigation will be an important input to such decision once required.(*03)

Lithuania should start selection of a site for geological repository in 2030, if international practice is the same and there is no new advanced technologies applicable. In addition, possibilities to prolong storagetime in the storage containers are to be investigated.(*04)

Mexico

Nr. of reactors

first grid connection

% of total electricity 

2

1989-04-13

3.55%

In 1998 a Radioactive Waste Management Policy project was started, which "unfortunately has not been issued due to socio-political obstacles." Currently there is no formally established policy for radioactive waste management. (*01) No reprocessing takes place.

On site storage spent fuel
The Energy Ministry is beginning to take administrative and budgetary steps to create a national company to manage its radioactive waste. It is also planning to sign the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management

An engineered near-surface disposal site for low-level waste (LLW) operated at Piedrera between 1985 and 1987. A collection, treatment and storage centre for LLW has operated at Maquixco since 1972. (*02)

Pending final solution, spent fuel is stored on site in modified spent fuel pools, (*03) increasing drastically the maximum capacity, "providing the time to develop an integral long-term strategy". (*04) But even 20 years later in a January 2010 presentation atmitted no specific disposal plan was established. Javier Palacios, head of ININ (National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Security) named the strategy and action on nuclear waste: "Formulating a national policy for the management of radioactive waste generated in the country". (*05)

Netherlands

Nr. of reactors

first grid connection

% of total electricity 

1

1968-10-18

3.60%

The Netherlands is searching for deep geological disposal in salt (and more recently in clay) since 1976. Spent fuel is reprocessed and interim storage of reprocessing waste takes place in a bunker at the Covra-facility in Vlissingen for about 100 years.(*01). The country dumped low and intermediate level waste in sea from 1967 to 1982.(*02) Since then all dutch LLW and ILW is stored at the Covra, first at Petten and since 1992 at Vlissingen.(*03)

The search for a suitable saltdome
On 18 June 1976 the government wrote a letter to the Executive Board of the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe. The letter stated that five salt domes are eligible for test drilling: Gasselte Schoonlo, Pieterburen, Onstwedde and Anloo.(*04) The government thought actual storage could begin around the year 2000. (*05) According to J. Hamstra, then the main government adviser on nuclear waste, the storage of nuclear waste in the German Asse salt dome was an important argument to investigate salt domes in the Netherlands.(*06) Action groups against the plans were created inmmediately everywhere in Groningen and Drenthe.(*07) In March 1980 the Dutch parliament rejected test drillings and decided to hold a Social Debate on Energy (MDE), although everyone called it the Broad Social Discussion (BMD in Dutch). It was decided to delay exploratory drilling until after the BMD.(*08)

In 1984, shortly after the BMD, plans for test drilling reappeared again with the Commission Storage at Land (OPLA),(*09) although no specific proposals were mentioned. But in an 1987 interim report, OPLA listed 34 salt domes and salt layers in five northern provinces.(*10) Again, this list led to many protests.

A new attempt to discuss the problem of nuclear waste, was when, in 1987, Environment minister Nijpels (VVD, Liberals), started a consultation process about criteria the storage must meet.(*11) But Nijpels made a false start publishing an almost unreadable paper for the participation process, leading to discussions and protests even at governmental level. (*12)

On May 14, 1993 the then Environment Minister Alders (PvdA, Social Democrats) wrote that underground storage will be allowed, when 'permanent retrievability' is assured. One should always be able to get to the nuclear waste, but salt domes are slowly silting up. Alders therefor called storage in salt "not very realistic", but wanted "further inquiry" into storage in salt and - a new possibility - in clay. (*13)

To study permanent retrievability, the Ministry of Economic Affairs inaugurated in 1995 the Commission Radioactive Waste Disposal (CORA), which published its report 'Retrievable storage, a accessible path? ' in February 2001. Exploratory drilling and further studies in salt domes or clay layers are to be postponed, but not canceled definetely. The nuclear waste remains above ground…. for the moment.

In the years that followed different governments voiced the same opinion. Former Environment Minister Cramer for instance wrote to parliament on June 30, 2009: "In the current state of science and technology only geological (deep underground) disposal of highly radioactive waste is a solution, which ensures the waste will, even after millions of years, remains outside the living space (biosphere) of humans." (*14)  According to the minister future policy will be "directed at retrievable final disposal of radioactive waste in deep underground." She also stated that the report about the preconditions for the construction of new nuclear power plants, which will be published in the spring of 2010, will discuss "possible future policy on radioactive waste."The government wants a discussion about nuclear power with "experts and stakeholders."

To prepare such a discussion the government commissioned a report from the Dutch Nuclear Research & Consultancy Group (NRG). The regional newspaper Nieuwsblad van het Noorden quoted from the still classified report on December 14, 2009. According to the report, which speaks of disposal in deep underground stable geological formations, the government should increase its efforts to convince authorities and public of the necessity of storage of nuclear waste, without questioning risks and dangers. As a precondition for the construction of a new nuclear reactor –in operation in 2020-  the reports states: “final disposal is an accepted idea in 2015.” “There must be a step-to-step scheme to realize acceptance of geological disposal”, according to NRG.

On January 8 2010, the Advice for guidelines for the Environmental Impact Report for the construction of a second nuclear power plant at Borssele was published by the ministry.(*15) In it it says: "Give attention to the possibilities of final disposal of radioactive waste". Meaning disposal in salt or clay. The Covra (the 100% state-owned organisation responsible for storing all radioactive waste) started a new research project on July 5, 2011: Research Program Final Disposal Radioactive Waste (in Dutch OPERA).(*16) "In the current state of science and technology only geological disposal of highly radioactive waste is a solution, which ensures the waste will, for the long term, remains outside the living space (biosphere) of humans." And: "The decision about a disposal facility for Dutch radioactive waste is a process with a very long time horizon (according to the current policy at least 100 years) that will be implemented gradually." … "International experience show this is at least a 20-25 year long process. The ultimate construction of the facility is expected to take another 5-10 years. This means final disposal in the Netherlands will not be in operation before 2130". (*17)

In 2011, Greenpeace commissioned T&A Survey to do a study about underground clay-layers in the Netherlands. Conclusion of the research is that the so-called Klei van Boom (Boom's clay)  meet the preconditions announced by the government for waste disposal in four area's.

Then Greenpeace started an intensive campaign against the disposal in these clay-layers. Early February 2012, over 80 concerned municipalities and all provinces made statements opposing underground disposal of radioactive waste on its territories. (*18)

References:

Korea, Republic of
*01- IAEA: Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea, IAEA-Tecdoc-1105, August 1999, p.40
*02- OECD: Radioactive waste management in Republic of Korea, 2010, p.10
*03- World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in South Korea, March 2012
*04- OECD, 2010, p.
*05- World Nuclear Association, March 2012
*06- South Korea’s nuclear energy development has been made possible by the ROK-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement signed in 1972. The United States provided nuclear technologies and materials necessary for the peaceful use of nuclear energy; in return, South Korea was specifically prohibited from proliferation-related activities such as the reprocessing of spent fuel and uranium enrichment under the terms of the agreement. After three decades of successful bilateral nuclear cooperation, the two governments are due to renew the accord by 2014. See: Seongho Sheen: Nuclear Sovereignty versus Nuclear Security: Renewing the ROK-U.S. Atomic Energy Agreement, in The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. 23, No. 2, June 2011, 273–288
*07- Nuclear Fuel: Reprocessing cost might exceed KHNP’s spent fuel management fees, 13 July 2009, p. 1
*08- see for instance the case of Buan; Nuclear Monitor 591: Massive actions against proposed South Korean waste dump, 22 August 2003, p.5
*09- Seong-Kyung Cho and Jooho Whang, “Status and Challenges of Nuclear Power Program and Reflections of Radioactive Waste Management Policy in Korea,” 2009 Advanced Summer School of Radioactive Waste Disposal with Social-Scientific Literacy, Berkeley, CA, 3 — 10 August 2009        
*10- Korea Herald: Gyeongju wins vote for nuclear dump, 3 November 2005
*11- World Nuclear Association, March 2012
*12- Seong-Kyung Cho and Jooho Whang, August 2009
*13- This is based on several South Korean news items in 2009, quoted in: IPFM, Managing spent fuel from nuclear power reactors, 2011, p. 68
*14- Republic of Korea: Korean Third National Report under the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, October 2008, p.91
*15- OECD, 2010, p.12
*16- Miles Pomper, Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, Stephanie Lieggi, and Lawrence Scheinman: Nuclear Power and Spent Fuel in East Asia: Balancing Energy, Politics and Nonproliferation, Asia-Pacific Journal: 21 June 2010

Lithuania
*01- World Nuclear News: Lithuania shuts Ignalina plant, 4 January 2011)
*02- World Nuclear News: Lithuanian project makes progress, 30 March 2012
*03- Lithuania: Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, Second National Report, 2008
*04- Algirdas Vaidotas: Radioactive waste management in Lithuania; implementation and strategies, Deputy Director Radioactive Waste Management Agency (RATA), 4 November 2011

Mexico
*01- IAEA: Country Profile Mexico
*02- World Nuclear Association: Nuclear Power in Mexico, March 2012
*03- OECD: Radioactive waste management programmes in OECD countries: Mexico, 2005.
*04- Augusto Vera: Laguna Verde Station approach to nuclear waste, Comision Federal de Electricidad, 1993
*05- Javier Palacios H.: Situación de los Desechos Radioactivos en México, presentation at OLADE, 25-27 February 2010.

Netherlands
*01- COVRA: Beleid (Policy), COVRA website http://www.covra.nl/over-covra/beleid.
*02- IAEA: Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea, IAEA-Tecdoc-1105, August 1999.
*03- Energie en Milieuspectrum: Radioactief afval een eeuw onderdak (Radioactive waste under a shelter for a century), March 1994
*04- Letter Minister Economic Affairs Lubbers and Minister of Public Health and Enviroment Vorrink to Gedeputeerde Staten (Executive Board) of Groningen and Drenthe, 18 June 1976. Reference 376/-II/1055/EEK.
*05- ICK-commissie; Subcommissie Radioactieve Afvalstoffen (RAS), Eerste interimrapport betreffende de mogelijkheden van opslag van radioactieve afvalstoffen in zoutvoorkomens in Nederland, (1977).(ICK-Commission Subcommission Radioactive Waste (RAS). First interimreport about possibilities for the disposal of radioactive waste substances in salt formations in the Netherlands.)
*06- Atoomenergie, July/August 1974, pp. 175-181.
*07- An anthology of press publications and comments on the disposal proposals can be found in: Meent van der Suis, Energie en milieu in de Nederlandse krant 1968-1993, (19933). (Energy and environment in the Dutch newspapers 1968-1993)
*08- Tweede Kamer, session 1979-1980, 15802, nrs. 11-12, p.160.
*09- Tweede Kamer, session 1984-1985, 18343, 6.
*10- Commissie Opberging te Land (OPLA): Onderzoek inzake geologische opberging van radioactief afval in Nederland, Tweede Tussenrapport over Fase 1 (January 1986-January 1987), 1987. (Commission Storage on Land. Research for geological disposal of radioactive waste in the Netherlands. Second Interim report on Phase 1)
*11- Ministerie of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment (VROM): Basisnotitie ten behoeve van de ontwikkeling van een toetsingscriterium voor de ondergrondse opberging van radioactief afval (TOR), (1987). (Basic notes for development of assessment criteria for the underground disposal of radioactive waste)
*12- Stichting Natuur en Milieu: Reactie namens de hele Nederlandse milieubeweging op de zogeheten TOR-nota (26 October 1987). (Reaction for the Dutch Environmental movement on the so-called TOR-notes)
*13- Tweede Kamer, session 1992-1993, 23163, nr 1.
*14-  Ministry of VROM, Reference RB/2009040895, 30 June 2009
*15- Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I): Advice for guidelines for the Environmental Impact Report for the construction of a second nuclear power plant at Borssele, 3 December 2009 / reportnumber: 2295-48
*16- COVRA press release: Start OPERA program, 5 July 2011
*17- OPERA: Mutiannual program OPERA, 5 July 2011.
*18- see picture (greenpeace brochure  -blz 5, of website)
*19- Greenpeace campaign website http://www.greenpeace.nl/Nieuwsoverzicht-2012/Actie-roept-minister-Verha..., (visited February 8, 2012)