A science ministry working group said specifics for research at the trouble-prone Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor will be drawn up next summer.
The group released an outline of the planned research Tuesday, saying the reactor would be used to establish technology for producing more nuclear fuel than it consumes and to study ways to reduce nuclear waste.
The science ministry envisages a test run of the reactor starting in late 2013 or beyond.
Monju, on the Sea of Japan coast in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, has been regarded as key to realizing the nation's nuclear fuel cycle goal, in which spent fuel from power plants would be reprocessed for reuse as plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel, or MOX.
But mishaps and missteps at the facility have cast doubt on the project's viability. The Fukushima meltdown crisis further clouded Monju's future.
The government decided in September to phase out nuclear power completely by the 2030s and only use Monju for research purposes within that time frame. Monju's operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, has submitted to the working group a plan to run the fast-breeder reactor for about 10 years.