News+Politics August 20, 2013
A Giant Ice Wall: A "Last-Ditch Solution" To Containing Radioactive Waste At Fukushima

Government officials and nuclear workers inspecting a construction site near the Fukushima plant on August 6, 2013 (Photo: Getty)

This might sound like science fiction (or fantasy), but it's real: the Japanese government is considering building a giant ice wall to contain radioactive leakage from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, more than two years after the earthquake and tsunami that badly damaged the facility.

The plan, which National Geographic refers to as "a last-ditch solution," calls for an underground wall of ice about a kilometre and a half long, completely surrounding the facility.

fukushima-ice-diagram.jpgJapanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the plan at a press conference, and said it could cost 50 billion yen (about $410 million) to complete the wall. The Reuters diagram at left offers an overview of how the wall would be built.

In May, a government panel approved the ice wall plan, which was originally proposed by Japanese construction company Kajima Corporation.

National Geographic reports that there is a precedent for using underground ice walls to prevent water from moving through soil, although it's never been used at a nuclear plant before.

Back in the 1990s, the Aquarius gold mine in Ontario built a four-kilometre underground ice wall system to prevent inflows of groundwater into the mine, although changes in the market meant it was never turned on.

One potential worry about keeping the wall in place over the long term is the amount of power it would require: Dallas-based ground-freezing consultant Bernd Braun told Bloomberg Businessweek a wall of that size would need 9.8 megawatts of power to maintain, or enough energy to power 3,300 homes.

At the moment, contaminated groundwater continues to flow from the plant at a rate of nearly 300 tonnes - or nearly 72,000 gallons - each day, despite multiple efforts by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to stop it.

Today Reuters is reporting on a leak of 300 tonnes of material so toxic that "a person standing half a metre away would, within an hour, receive a radiation dose five times the average annual global limit for nuclear workers."

The newly reported leak is "the most serious setback to the cleanup of the worst accident since Chernobyl," Reuters writes.

TEPCO says it does not believe any of the water from this leak has reached the Pacific Ocean, which is located about 500 metres away.

Via National Geographic



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