South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy (MOTIE) announced that it will begin a public contest for sites to establish an underground high-level radioactive waste research facility in collaboration with the Korea Radioactive Waste Agency (KORAD).

This follows the government’s announcement that it will develop radioactive waste (HLW) management technology using an underground research facility for HLW research, in accordance with the “Second Basic Plan for High-Level Radioactive Waste Management” announced in December 2021.

The underground facility will conduct experiments and research on the characteristics of South Korea’s unique rocks and the performance of its high-level radioactive waste disposal system at a depth of approximately 500 metres. It is a “pure research facility” to be constructed on a separate site from HLW disposal sites. Nuclear fuel and radioactive waste used in operations will never be brought into the research facility.

South Korea already operates an underground disposal research facility for low and medium level waste at a depth of 120 metres on the site of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute. However the depth is not suitable for HLW.

The KORAD is establishing a separate Site Selection Evaluation Committee to proceed with selecting a site for the underground research facility. The agency plans to complete site selection by the end of this year, based on plans submitted by basic local governments and on-site land survey results evaluated in terms of geological suitability and against eight criteria. MOTIE aims for completion by 2032. The facility is planned to operate for approximately 20 years starting in 2030.

The underground facilities will focus on specialised manpower training and development of disposal technologies suitable for the domestic geological environment, while also providing the public with the opportunity to experience an environment similar to that of an actual high-level waste disposal facility. Technologies developed in the facility will be used in the process of site selection, construction, and management of the high-level waste repository.

Currently used fuel is currently stored onsite at NPPs pending construction of a centralised interim storage facility, which is planned to begin operation by 2035.