The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has crafted a map highlighting areas around Japan the government deems appropriate for constructing final disposal sites for high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. The government called the move a first step in the effort toward disposal of the waste — provisions for which have been lacking even as the nation proceeded with nuclear power generation for decades.
It is not clear, however, whether the effort will move forward as hoped. The process to produce the map essentially involved only insiders from the so-called nuclear village, and questions have been raised as to how scientifically reliable it is. The government needs to keep the process for identifying candidate sites open and transparent to win the public's understanding and trust in the effort.
Spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed to extract uranium and plutonium, which can be used again as fuel. High-level radioactive waste consists of liquid that is produced during reprocessing. Such waste will be vitrified in glass and put in metal canisters. Since this waste emits strong radiation over a long period of time, the canisters containing it will be surrounded by clay to serve as a buffer. Under a law passed in 2000, vitrified high-level nuclear waste in canisters must be buried in bedrock at least 300 meters deep, away from human settlements, and stored for up to 100,000 years.