By Meeyoung Cho
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is to hold public consultations on where to store waste nuclear fuel as storage capacity at its reactors is reaching full capacity, the government said on Tuesday.
The plan to set up an independent consultative body comes as South Korea grapples with its worst nuclear crisis ever after forged certificates were used by parts suppliers to the nuclear industry, causing stoppages at two reactors as the bitter Korean winter draws near.
The government has been criticized for a lack of transparency over safety for its nuclear programme and for the dual supervisory and promotion roles of its regulators.
The Ministry of the Knowledge Economy and its officials said in a statement on Tuesday that the consultations over storing waste fuel temporarily - for perhaps 50 years or so - would be completed by the end of 2014.
South Korea had produced 12,340 tonnes of nuclear waste as of June 2012, or 71 percent of its storage capacity at reactors, according to government data. It is forbidden from reprocessing spent fuel under a deal with the United States for fear of exacerbating nuclear tension with North Korea.
Storage capacity at four nationwide nuclear power plant complexes will become full between 2016 and 2021.
Asia's fourth-largest economy has 23 nuclear reactors which supply a third of its power. It plans to add 11 more by 2024 to expand the contribution of nuclear power to nearly 50 percent.
Reprocessing locally and transferring nuclear waste to a third country requires U.S. approval under a bilateral agreement that expires in March 2014.
"This is separate from what has been discussed in the U.S.-Korea talks over reprocessing waste nuclear fuel," vice economy minister Cho Seok told reporters in a briefing, referring to the planned consultations.
Cho and other ministry officials declined to comment on the status of the talks with the United States. (Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by David Chance and Robert Birsel)