Nuclear crisis: Japan announces £301m 'ice wall' in desperate attempt to stop Fukushima leaks

Decision seen as an attempt to show that the accident won't be a safety concern as IOC chooses host of 2020 Olympics

The Japanese government will spend $470 million (£301 million) on a subterranean ice wall in a desperate bid to stop leaks of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear station after repeated failures by the plant's operator.

The decision is widely seen as an attempt to show that the nuclear accident won't be a safety concern just days before the International Olympic Committee chooses between Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid as the host of the 2020 Olympics. 

The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has been leaking hundreds of tons of contaminated underground water into the sea since shortly after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami damaged the complex. Several leaks from tanks storing tainted water in recent weeks have heightened the sense of crisis that the plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., isn't able to contain the problem. 

"Instead of leaving this up to TEPCO, the government will step forward and take charge," said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after adopting the outline. "The world is watching if we can properly handle the contaminated water but also the entire decommissioning of the plant." 

The government plans to spend an estimated 47 billion yen (£301 million) through the end of March 2015 on two projects — 32 billion yen on the ice wall and 15 billion yen on upgraded water treatment units that is supposed to remove all radioactive elements but water-soluble tritium — according to energy agency official Tatsuya Shinkawa. 

The government, however, is not paying for urgently needed water tanks and other equipment that TEPCO is using to stop leaks. Shinkawa said the funding is limited to "technologically challenging projects" but the government will open to additional help when needed. 

The ice wall would freeze the ground to a depth of up to 30 meters (100 feet) through an electrical system of thin pipes carrying a coolant as cold as minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 Fahrenheit). That would block contaminated water from escaping the facility's immediate surroundings, as well as keep underground water from entering the reactor and turbine buildings, where much of the radioactive water has collected. 

The project, which TEPCO and the government proposed in May, is being tested for feasibility by a Japanese construction giant Kajima Corp. and set for completion by March 2015. 

Similar methods have been used to block water from parts of tunnels and subways, but building a 1.4 kilometer (2-mile) wall that surrounds four reactor buildings and their related facilities is unprecedented. 

An underground ice wall has been used to isolate radioactive waste at the U.S. Department of Energy's former site of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee that produced plutonium, but only for six years, according to the MIT Technology Review magazine. 

Some experts are still skeptical about the technology and say the running costs would be a huge burden. 

Atsunao Marui, an underground water expert at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said a frozen wall could be water-tight but is normally intended for use for a couple of years and is not proven for long-term use as planned in the outline. The decommissioning process is expected to take about 40 years. 

"We still need a few layers of safety backups in case it fails," Marui told the Associated Press. "Plus the frozen wall won't be ready for another two years, which means contaminated water would continue to leak out." 

Marui said additional measures should be taken to stop contaminated water from keep traveling under the seabed during that time and leak further out in the sea. 

TEPCO has been pumping water into the wrecked reactors to keep cool nuclear fuel that melted when the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami knocked out the plant's power and cooling system. The utility has built more than 1,000 tanks holding 335,000 tons of contaminated water at the plant, and the amount grows by 400 tons daily. Some tanks have sprung leaks, spilling contaminated water onto the ground. 

After spending on the ice wall, the remainder of the public funding — 15 billion yen until March 2015 — will go to the development and production of a water treatment unit that can treat the contaminated water more thoroughly and by a larger volume than an existing machine, which is under repair after corrosion was found during a test run. 

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has repeatedly said that the contaminated water cannot be stored in tanks forever and eventually has to be released into the sea after fully processed and diluted, but only with local consent. 

Other measures include replacing rubber-seamed storage tanks with more durable welded tanks as quickly as possible, and pumping out untainted underground water further inland for release into the sea to reduce the total amount flowing into the plant site. About 1,000 tons of underground water runs into the complex every day. 

TEPCO is also constructing an offshore wall of steel panels along the coast to keep contaminants from spreading further into the sea. The utility says radioactive elements have mostly remained near the embankment inside the bay, but experts have reported offshore "hot spots" of sediments contaminated with high levels of cesium. 

The leaks came at a worst time as Tokyo headed into the final days of the contest to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. With anti-government demonstrations plaguing Istanbul, Turkey's bid and a recession and high Spanish unemployment hanging over Madrid's candidacy, Tokyo is pushing its bid as the safe choice in uncertain times. 

The IOC will select the 2020 host on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam