Japan's Government Will Bankroll a Giant Ice Wall at Fukushima

After weeks of deliberation, the Japanese government has finally intervened in the increasingly desperate situation at Fukushima. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a $470 million plan to contain the leaking radioactive water at the nuclear power plant by building a giant wall of ice underground. And guess who's going to pay for it (hint: not TEPCO).


The taxpayers are going to foot the bill, of course. With up to 400 tons of radioactive groundwater leaking out to sea every day, Abe said that the situation required "radical measures" after TEPCO's "haphazard" handling of the problem. And this ice wall idea is pretty radical. The plan involves pumping coolant through underground pipes to freeze the soil around the reactor buildings. Workers will also use some of the funding to remove radionuclides from the contaminated water on site, including the hundreds of leaky storage drums on site.

Though the leaks have been a problem for months, the timing of the Japanese government's intervention seems pretty deliberate. In just a few days, the International Olympic Committee will decide who will host the 2020 Olympic Games. With Tokyo as the frontrunner, some observers worry that the situation at Fukushima will hurt Japan's chances to host. Abe also insisted that the government present a "fundamental resolution" to the clean up effort. "The world is paying attention to whether we can realize the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi, including the contaminated water problem," said the prime minister.


Inevitably, the Japanese government's move to take over the clean-up effort seems like a step in the right direction. TEPCO's received nothing but criticism and doubt about its handling of the situation, so it's a bit of a relief that the government's stepped in, even if the taxpayers have to foot the bill. Of course, who knows if they'll actually do a better job.

Japan Wants to Build an Ice Wall to Contain Fukushima's Radioactive Water

Radioactive water full of carcinogenic chemicals is leaking out of the Fukushima power plant at a critical rate, critical enough for the Nuclear Regulation Authority to deem the situation an "emergency." It's one of those desperate times, and the measures under consideration sound a little bit desperate.


One of the leading candidates for a solution to TEPCO's radioactive water problem involves building a mile-long underground ice wall around the plant to contain the leak. The idea is to drive vertical pipes spaced about a meter apart between 20 and 40 meters into the ground and to pump coolant through them. This would effectively create a barrier of permafrost around the affected buildings, keeping the contaminated water in and groundwater out. Kajima Corp., the company that built the plant, is currently putting together a feasibility plant for the project which they say could be done by mid 2015. It's a relatively simple job, but it's going to be expensive.

But hey, you can't put a price on not poisoning unsuspecting citizens. Again, the radioactive water leak is really bad. Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it an "urgent problem," and it's not a problem that's going to fix itself. The ice wall is also a proven method and one that the clean up crew at Fukushima has considered before. The strategy was used as early as the 1860s to shore up coal mines, and an experiment at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee recently showed that it can be used to contain radiation.

As one expert on frozen-earth projects told Bloomberg News, it's kind of the natural answer at this point. "When nothing else will work," he said, "it just jumps out at you and says 'Wow, it's a freeze job.'" Because what other kind of job would it be? [Bloomberg]