With the past Government policy of 100% reprocessing in Japan now open to discussion, options for direct disposal of spent fuel (SF) are now being considered in Japan. The need to move rapidly ahead in developing spent fuel management concepts is closely related to the ongoing debate on the future of nuclear power in Japan and the desire to understand the true costs of the entire life cycle of different options. Different scenarios for future nuclear power — and associated decisions on extent of reprocessing — will give rise to quite different inventories of SF with different disposal challenges.
Although much work has been carried out spent fuel disposal within other national programmes, the potential for mining the international knowledge base is limited by the boundary conditions for disposal in Japan. Indeed, with a volunteer approach to siting, no major salt deposits and few undisturbed sediments, high tectonic activity, relatively corrosive groundwater and no deserts, it is evident that a tailored solution is needed. Nevertheless, valuable lessons can be learned from projects carried out worldwide, if focus is placed on basic principles rather than implementation details.