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Japan's nuclear dilemma: What to do with all that nuclear waste?

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Oregon State University radioecologist Kathryn Higley says soil type, chemistry, and geology all come into play when it comes to water contamination. "The key feature is to keep water, critters, and plants out. Water will leach it; critters will spread it around," she says.

Are nuclear waste sites properly monitored?

Takemoto learned about the plan to bury the waste from a neighbor. When he called city hall to request a public meeting explaining the plans, he was turned down. But by filing freedom-of-information requests, he learned that at least 20 similar pits exist at parks and other public spaces in the city. He believes local officials are breaking the law by failing to inform residents and ensure the sites are properly monitored.

Last year's meltdowns exposed a culture of government secrecy surrounding the nuclear industry that allowed lax safety rules and poor oversight. Yet while the government has taken some steps toward transparency, it faces significant pressure to meet the country's energy needs. Koriyama's case illustrates that much related to nuclear power – and its very powerful business interests – remains hidden from an increasingly distrustful public.

"A lot more people are suspicious of government PR [public relations] now and want to see original documents," says Yukiko Miki, director of Tokyo-based Information Clearinghouse Japan. Her organization is using Japan's information disclosure law, which went into effect in 2001, to request and archive documents related to the Fukushima disaster. Media organizations have done the same to uncover a string of recent disaster-related scandals.

Japan's most passionate protest movement

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