11 June 2014, 15:48

Fukushima's great ice wall

Fukushima's great ice wall
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Japan has started building a huge underground ice wall at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. The purpose is to freeze the soil under broken reactors in a bid to slow the build-up of radioactive groundwater.

At least 1,500 pipes will be laid deep in soil, through which refrigerant will be transported to create the 1.5-kilometer frozen wall.

Authorized by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan's national watchdog, the project is due to be completed by March 2015.

The construction of the underground ice wall will be an unprecedented and risky job. That's according to Professor Akira Tokuhiro from the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering of the University of Idaho, who spoke to Radio VR.

“I've been reading that it is roughly worth about 315 million dollars. Since it is unprecedented, it is probably only 50-50 percent that is would succeed at this large scale. So, it is a risky initiative at 315 million dollars. The Japanese Government is willing to spend the money and the country's National Regulation Authority has given it the "okay," so I think Japan is going forward,” Akira Tokuhiro said.

The ice wall is the latest in a series of clean-up operations being carried out after the worst nuclear disaster in a generation in Japan.

The project's launch comes a month after the Fukushima plant's operator began to build a bypass system that will divert groundwater into the sea to try to reduce the volume of contaminated water.

Majia Nadesan, Professor at Arizona State University's New College, told Radio VR that the ice wall may hopefully help prevent contaminated water from entering the Pacific Ocean.

“The ice wall may possibly be a viable solution. I lack the technological expertise necessary for evaluating the viability of creating and maintaining an ice-wall in a wet, geologically active, and highly radioactive environment. I think that the economic feasibility is irrelevant because maintaining the security of the Pacific eco-system is still an issue. There is no cost that is too great to try to address this,” Maija Nadesan said.

Proposed for Fukushima last year, the idea of freezing a section of the ground was earlier used in the construction of tunnels near watercourses.

 

Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, is, meanwhile, pinning high hopes on the new project.

 

This comes as small surprise because coping with the ever-increasing amount of water at the crippled Fukushima plant remains one of the biggest challenges for the facility's operator.

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