Nuclear Waste Management in Japan

John Solitario
February 20, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Aerial view of the Tokai Nuclear Power Plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1950s, Japan embarked upon an ambitious economic recovery plan, which resulted in double-digit economic growth. [1] Japan's booming economy demanded a substantial increase in electricity production, but as a secluded island, Japan remained scarce on natural resources. For example, in 2015, Japan was the world's largest importer of liquefied natural gas, the second-largest importer of coal, and the third largest net importer of crude oil and oil products. [2] Therefore, nuclear energy stands as a viable option for electricity production in Japan. Currently, Japan has 44 functioning nuclear power plants and almost 30% of total electricity production comes from nuclear power. [3]

Waste Management

Since the inception of the Tokai Nuclear Power Plant in 1966 (depicted in Fig. 1), Japan has continually dealt with the challenges of nuclear waste management, like all nations utilizing nuclear power. Radioactive waste management in Japan falls into several primary categories: High-Level Radioactive Waste (HLW), Low-Level Radioactive Waste (LLW), Waste Generated by Nuclear Reactors, Very Low-Level Radioactive Waste (VLLW), Uranium Production Waste, and Transuranic (TRU) Waste. [4] Japan has specific facilities for storing both HLW and LLW, but HLW disposal requires additional reprocessing.

The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Center of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) at Rokkasho village in the Aomori Prefecture, has been in operation since 1992. This center is permitted to dispose of 400,000 drums of LLW waste, and by 2012, JNFL had buried some 230,000 drums of homogeneous and solidified LLW from Japanese nuclear power plants. [5]

Although Japan manages the storage of HLW, Japan outsources HLW reprocessing to overseas facilities in France and the United Kingdom. Currently, Japanese utility companies have their spent nuclear fuel reprocessed by Areva NC of France and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL) of the United Kingdom. The service contracts with Japanese utilities allow Areva NC and BNFL to return the vitrified residues to their Japanese customers. Both Areva NC and BNFL have adapted a stringent return policy. All returned vitrified waste is placed in the storage pits of the Vitrified Waste Storage Centre at JNFL in Rokkasho village and will remain there for 30 to 50 years. [5]


In all, Japan deals with the same stringent standards faced by all nations utilizing nuclear power. However, Japan's location in a highly seismic area makes nuclear waste management increasingly difficult. Moving forward, Japan will continually deal with the management of radioactive waste as a matter of national security.

© John Solitario. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. E. Pickett, "Japan's Nuclear Energy Policy: From Firm Commitment to Difficult Dilemma Addressing Growing Stocks of Plutonium, Program Delays, Domestic Opposition and International Pressure," Energy Policy 30, 1337 (2002).

[2] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy," British Petroleum, June 2015.

[3] K. B. Medlock III and R. Hartley, "The Role Of Nuclear Power in Enhancing Japan's Energy Security," James A. Baker III Institute, Rice University, 2004.

[4] S. Masudo, "A Quarter Century of Nuclear Waste Management in Japan," Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, 24 Feb 02.

[5] M. Zhang et al., "Nuclear Energy and the Management of High-Level Radioactive Waste in Japan," J. Hydrol. Eng. 14, 1208 (2009).