South Korea announces site for its first nuclear waste dump

South Korea announced the site for its first nuclear waste dump on Thursday, resolving a 19-year-old headache in a country that relies on atomic power for about 40 percent of its electricity.

Gyeongju, an ancient city about 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of Seoul, was selected as the site for the dump for atomic wastes after residents voted overwhelmingly _ 89.5 percent _ for it. Voter turnout was more than 70 percent.

Three other cities also competed to host the site, which will bring 300 billion won (US$288 million, Ђ240 million) in subsidies and other benefits from the central government.

South Korea first introduced atomic power in 1978 and now has 20 nuclear reactors in operation and two more under construction, with a total of 28 planned by 2017. The country hasn't built a nuclear waste dump and the waste is now stored inside power plants, but officials have warned they are filling up.

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said it aims to complete construction of the dump by the end of 2008. Low- and intermediate-level atomic waste _ such as radiated gloves, clothes and power plant parts _ will be stored there.

High-level waste such as spent nuclear fuel will continue to be stored at power plants in pools, which are expected to fill up by 2016.

South Korea's attempt to build a nuclear waste dump dates back to 1986. Nine previous attempts fell through, mainly due to opposition from residents and environmental activists, despite government assurances that the facility would be safe.

Last year, dozens of Seoul National University professors proposed building the facility in their campus in a symbolic move emphasizing its safety.

The latest government attempt to select the site came in 2003, when the central government designated an islet off Buan, a coastal town 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Seoul, and offered the area millions of dollars in subsidies.

But residents staged frequent, sometimes violent protests against putting the dump near the town, and the plan was scrapped.

After that, the central government revised rules to require local governments to win approval of residents through a vote before submitting dump applications.

"This is a victory of all South Korean people as it left a good precedent for ... conflict resolution by selecting the site, which has been a key social conflict issue for the past 19 years, through a residents' vote," the ministry said in a statement, AP reported. V.A.

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