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S.Korea not interested in reprocessing its fuel in Japan


November 11, 2012


S. Korean nuke expert negative about int'l fuel recycling at Rokkasho



TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A South Korean nuclear expert has expressed a negative view about a plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from his country at a plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho, out of concern over nuclear proliferation.

Chang Soon-heung, professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, said in a recent interview with Kyodo News in Seoul that he "hesitates" over relying on overseas spent fuel reprocessing "in view of nonproliferation" and also pointed to high costs of transportation and measures to ensure safety.

Chang indicated it poses a problem that pure plutonium that can be used to produce nuclear weapons is extracted from spent fuel under the reprocessing method adopted at the Rokkasho facility.

The view of the former president of Korea Nuclear Society in South Korea casts a shadow over the future of the Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. facility, which has yet to start full-scale operation amid repeated problems even though nearly 20 years have passed since its construction began.

In May, a study group privately set up for then nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono proposed an option of accepting spent nuclear fuel from foreign countries at the Rokkasho reprocessing facility, as Japan had set the policy of reducing its dependence on nuclear power.

Panel members at that time envisioned South Korea as a candidate supplier of the spent nuclear fuel.

Chang, who offered advice to the Japanese government on its probe into the causes of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, also said that the United States and South Korea have agreed to conduct a joint study on a reprocessing method known as "pyroprocessing."

The expert said the pyroprocessing technology produces mixture of plutonium, americium, neptunium and other substances, and is thus better than the method used at the Rokkasho plant in terms of nuclear nonproliferation as weapons-grade pure plutonium is not produced.

Seoul and Washington are set to study the fuel reprocessing technology for 10 years after the entry into force of a revised bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation pact. The existing agreement will expire in 2014 and the two countries have been negotiating its revision.

Chang also said storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel in South Korea are expected to be full in 2023 and the purpose of studying the pyroprocessing technology is to greatly reduce the volume of spent fuel.

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