South Korea | World Survey

Spending on spent fuel

23 July 2010

To tackle its abundance of spent fuel, South Korea’s Atomic Energy Commission has decided to make long-term plans for Gen IV nuclear energy development. The plan envisages sodium-cooled fast reactors, pyro-processing of SFR fuel and hydrogen production from very-high temperature reactors. By Young Ho Cho and Joo Hyun Moon

In August 2008, the Korean National Energy Committee, the top energy policy-making body in Korea, promulgated ‘the national energy basic plan,’ which proposed that the nuclear energy portion of the national energy mix be increased from 36% in 2007 to 59% in 2030, in terms of electricity generation. However, this huge increase in nuclear power will inevitably accelerate the accumulation of spent nuclear fuel in Korea. Spent nuclear fuel arising in Korea is expected to exceed 100,000 MTU by 2100 if the country pursues the direct disposal option for existing pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR) and pressurized water reactor (PWR) systems.

The Korean Government has realized that the effective spent nuclear fuel management will be a key in determining the sustainability of nuclear energy in Korea, and the development of technology for the mass production of hydrogen to supply the clean energy will be necessary. The 255th meeting of Atomic Energy Commission, the top nuclear energy policy-making body in Korea, held on 22 December 2008, promulgated “the long-term plan for the development of the next generation nuclear energy systems in Korea (LTP),” which defines and plans the necessary research and development of innovative nuclear energy systems, such as the sodium-cooled fast reactor and the very-high-temperature reactor, known as Generation IV (Gen-IV) systems.

Since the commencement of the first commercial operation of the Kori unit 1 in April 1978, 20 nuclear power plants (NPPs) are operating commercially as of March 2010; 16 PWRs and 4 PHWRs (17832MW capacity). Spent nuclear fuel (SNF)?generated from NPPs is stored in a facility in each unit. By December 2009, spent fuel totalled about 10,900 MTU; 750 MTU is generated annually.

Since joining the Generation IV International Forum in August 2005, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) has participated in the international joint R&D of two systems: the sodium fast-reactor fuel cycle that involves the use of pyro-processing and the VHTR for mass hydrogen production.

Fast reactors to burn or transmute the transuranic elements that form the longest-lived components of nuclear waste. In the SFR fuel cycle to be developed, the spent PWR fuel is converted to a metal fuel and resupplied to the SFR. The uranium recovered from the spent PWR fuel is reused in the SFR and/or CANDU reactors. The spent SFR fuel is pyro-processed and resupplied to the SFR, while the Cs- and Sr-containing high-level radioactive wastes are managed separately. The development of this process involves substantial U.S.-Korean nuclear cooperation, since the USA effectively controls what is done with the country’s used fuel, and will be pivotal to the renewal of the US-ROK agreement in 2014. 

KAERI worked to develop a fast reactor since 1992, KALIMER (Korea Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor). KALIMER is a 600 MWe pool type sodium-cooled fast reactor designed to operate at 510°C. A transmuter core consists of uranium and transuranics in metal form produced from pyro-processing. This KALIMER is the basis of the SFR to be developed.

According to the national vision and action plan of the hydrogen economy, 15% of the total energy demand will be supplied by hydrogen in 2040. In order to enter into the age of the hydrogen economy, it is essential to develop technology for the mass production of hydrogen economically without CO2 emissions. KAERI has researched a Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) design with the aim of producing hydrogen from it. This is envisaged as 300 MWt modules, each producing 30,000 tonnes of hydrogen per year. Using the high temperatures (> 900°C) generated in the VHTR, the hydrogen is produced by decomposing water directly through sulfur-iodine (SI) process, which is regarded as the most feasible candidate.

Author Info:

Young Ho Cho, Catholic University of Daegu, 330, Hayang-eup, Gyeongsan, Gyeongbuk, 712-702, Republic of Korea; Joo Hyun Moon, Dongguk University, 707, Seokjang-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongbuk, 780-714, Republic of Korea.

FilesSouth Korea's key Gen-IV project milestones

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.