South Korea’s 1st nuclear repository goes into operation

Protests from locals are holding up shipment of intermediate-level waste.

Seoul: South Korea`s first dedicated nuclear repository has gone into operation in a city in the southeastern part of the country, although protests from local residents are holding up shipment of intermediate-level waste, its operator said on Friday.

Korea Radioactive Waste Management Corp (KRMC) said its Gyeongju facility, located 371 kilometres southeast of Seoul, was to receive it first ever delivery of 1,000 drums of discarded material from the Uljin nuclear power plant on the east coast, but around 50 protesters have blocked the road leading to the repository.

Protesters claimed that bringing in waste before a permanent holding facility is built reflects the government`s and the KRMC`s lack of interest in safety.

"The citizens of Gyeongju oppose receiving shipments of waste before the facility is fully completed," they said in a statement.

Related to the move by local citizens and civic group members, authorities argued that the temporary holding area is safe for use and posed no health threats. They said from the outset the repository was designed to receive waste in the temporary holding area until the underground silos for permanent storage are built in late 2012.

The KRMC said that to alleviate health concerns, the level of radiation that comes out of the waste will be kept below 6 millisieverts (mSv) on an annual basis, which is lower than the 6.9 mSv a person can be exposed to if he or she is given an X-ray or CAT scan.

The company said there are six scanners around the holding area that can immediately inform people in the neighbouring area of any sudden changes in radiation levels.

Besides the waste that will come from Uljin, the Gyeongju repository is designed to receive all intermediate-level waste from South Korea`s three other nuclear power plants in Gori, Wolsong and Yeonggwang. The country currently has 20 commercial reactors generating about 40 per cent of its electricity.