Nuclear experts resume their activities to verify the feasibility of spent fuel processing technology


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SEOUL – South Korean nuclear experts have resumed work to verify the feasibility of spent nuclear fuel processing technology after more than two decades of fruitless research that has sparked endless debate over how long taxpayers should be spent on acquiring unsustainable technologies.

While a nuclear deal between Washington and Seoul effectively restricts the development of reprocessing facilities to acquire enriched uranium as fuel, South Korea has conducted research into “pyroprocessing,” an untested technology that has been considered largely resistant to proliferation since the product is thermally and radioactively. much too hot to be used for a weapon.

The Science and ICT Department said in a statement on Sept. 29 that a nine-member review committee was allowed to resume suspended activities, weeks after Seoul and Washington approved the results of a joint study. of 10 years carried out by research organizations on the combination of pyroprocessing. and a sodium-cooled fast reactor (Pyro-SFR). The study recommended follow-up research for the commercialization of Pyro-SFR.

SFR is a fast neutron reactor cooled by liquid sodium. The chemical reactivity of sodium requires special precautions to prevent and extinguish fires. If sodium comes in contact with water, it reacts to produce sodium hydroxide and hydrogen, and hydrogen burns on contact with air.

Used nuclear fuel is held in interim storage facilities on site. Storage consists of two phases: wet storage and dry storage. The spent fuel rods are first kept in water storage pools, which provide cooling and protection against radiation. After 7-10 years of wet storage, they can be transferred to dry storage such as concrete drums, modular air-cooled storage units (MACSTORs) and dry storage containers.

South Korea operates 24 nuclear reactors. President Moon Jae-in has announced his “nuclear phase-out” policy of phasing out nuclear power plants. Government data released in 2018 showed that South Korea needs a total cost of around 100.6 trillion won to seal reactors and manage spent fuel and radioactive waste.

Nuclear power plant operators want a quick fix to spent fuel rod stacks. But there has been no clear response from policymakers to address concerns over spent fuel management, which has been a strict issue due to strict restrictions from Washington which insisted that broader concessions on reprocessing could complicate denuclearization efforts on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea has been under scrutiny by the non-proliferation community due to its secret nuclear program in the 1970s.

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