A small Hokkaido town struggling with depopulation signed up Friday for preliminary research into its land to gauge its suitability for hosting a disposal site deep underground for high-level radioactive nuclear waste, the first municipality to do so in Japan since 2007.

Suttsu Mayor Haruo Kataoka submitted the documents for the survey at the quasi-governmental Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NUMO) in Tokyo.

Municipalities that undergo the preliminary research, the first of a three-stage process requiring some 20 years in total to select a permanent disposal site, can receive up to ¥2 billion in state subsidies over two years.