SEOUL - South Korea has authorised the start-up of operations at a storage facility for low- and medium-level radioactive waste that was initially approved in 2008 but whose opening was delayed by the public's concern about nuclear safety.
Public trust in nuclear power in the world's fifth-largest user of the energy source has been undermined by a 2012 safety scandal over the supply of reactor parts with fake security certificates plus the 2011 Fukushima crisis in Japan.
The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said in a statement on Thursday that Korea Radioactive Waste Agency would operate the facility, which can store 100,000 drums of low- and medium-radioactive waste underground, including contaminated clothing and tools.
The head of the commission had told Reuters last month that the facility, located in the southeastern city of Gyeongju, nearly 300 km (190 miles) southeast of Seoul, might open this month if it got the backing of the local community.
South Korea runs 23 nuclear reactors that supply a third of its power. In January the government formally adopted a lower target for nuclear power as a proportion of its energy mix but it still plans to add 11 more by 2024.
However, the country has to find a solution for its spent nuclear fuel. Around 70 per cent of its used fuel, nearly 9,000 tonnes, is stacked in temporary storage pools originally intended to hold it for five or six years, with some sites likely to be full by the end of 2016.
The nuclear reactors in Asia's fourth-biggest economy add 750 tonnes of spent fuel every year to the 13,300 tonnes that filled 71 per cent of its wet and dry storage capacity as of last year, according to reactor operator Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co Ltd, part of state-run Korea Electric Power Corp.