(2nd LD) Gov't mulls using military urea water reserve to help ease supply shortages
(ATTN: UPDATES with gov't explanation in paras 7, 13-14; RECASTS 3rd para for clarity)
By Kang Yoon-seung, Song Sang-ho and Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Nov. 8 (Yonhap) -- The government is considering using the military reserve of urea water solution, a key material used in diesel vehicles to reduce emissions, to help address supply shortages in the civilian sector, sources said Monday.
The defense ministry and other relevant ministries are in talks over the idea of temporarily lending part of the military stockpile to the civilian sector, they said, amid fears that a protracted shortage of the fluid could cause serious disruptions in the country's logistical industry.
The government is said to be considering using up to 200,000 liters of urea water solution in the military stockpile -- about 10 times more than the amount it seeks to import from Australia.
Boo Seung-chan, the spokesperson of the defense ministry, confirmed the government is mulling the possible use of the military reserve but brushed off concerns it could undermine defense operations, particularly in a contingency.
"We are weighing the option of temporarily lending the fluid to an extent that it does not hamper military operations," Boo told a regular press briefing.
Related ministries have yet to make a specific request to tap into the military reserve, Boo added, refusing to give details on the exact size of the stockpile on security grounds.
The military operates about 10,000 diesel-powered vehicles, such as trucks and buses, the defense ministry said. It is known to have more than six months' worth of urea water solution to use for the operation of these vehicles.
Some observers said that even if the military releases the amount, it is not sufficient to address shortages in the market, given the country's monthly demand for the urea water in the private sector is estimated at 20,000 tons.
In recent weeks, South Korea has been struggling with a shortage of urea water, also known as diesel exhaust fluid, as China tightened exports of fertilizers and related materials amid a power crisis caused by a coal supply shortage. Coal is the main feedstock for urea.
South Korea heavily relies on China for its supply of urea water solution, as 97.6 percent of its imports came from China in the first nine months of this year.
On Sunday, South Korea said it plans to import 20,000 liters of urea water solution from Australia this week to ease its supply shortage. It is expected to mobilize a KC-330 military tanker transport aircraft, an Air Force asset, for the import mission.
The military has no plans at the moment to deploy additional aircraft to import more urea water solution, the defense ministry said.
The foreign ministry has been consulting with the Chinese officials to expedite customs clearances for 18,000 tons of urea, which were supposed to be brought in under existing contracts.
"We have been mobilizing all available diplomatic channels to import urea via other routes to ease the supply crunch," a senior ministry official said.
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