By Meeyoung Cho
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea should build a new temporary facility to store spent nuclear fuel from 2030 and consider permanent underground storage from the middle of the century, a government advisory body said on Thursday.
South Korea is the world's fifth-biggest user of nuclear power, but has yet to find a permanent solution for its spent nuclear fuel, with temporary sites at individual nuclear plants likely to start to fill up from 2019.
The Public Engagement Commission, an independent body that advises the government on nuclear issues, said Seoul should select a domestic site by 2020 for an underground laboratory that could conduct safety checks and provide temporary storage.
The facility could become the site for a long-term storage facility, which would bury the country's nuclear waste 500 meters (1,640 ft) underground and start operations from 2051.
The commission's recommendations, which are subject to parliamentary hearings, will be given to the country's energy minister.
Public trust in nuclear energy in South Korea has been undermined by a 2012 scandal over the supply of reactor parts with fake security certificates and the 2011 Fukushima crisis in Japan.
Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co Ltd, owned by state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp, operates 23 nuclear reactors supplying a third of the country's electricity. It plans to build another 13 reactors by 2029.
The reactors currently produce around 750 tonnes of spent fuel a year.
South Korea is unable to reprocess spent fuel under a civil nuclear pact with the United States, although an agreement with Washington in April opened the way for easier movement of spent fuel to a third country for disposal.
Seoul last December authorized the start-up of an underground storage facility for low- and medium-level radioactive waste such as contaminated clothing and tools.
(Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by Richard Pullin)