Japan to fund ice wall in bid to stop reactor leaks


By Mari Yamaguchi ,AP

TOKYO — The Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will spend US$470 million on a subterranean ice wall among other measures 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 concerns 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, after adopting the plans. “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 (US$470 million) in the period up to the end of March 2015 on two projects — 32 billion yen (US$320 million) on the ice wall and 15 billion yen (US$150 million) on upgraded water treatment units that are supposed to remove all the radioactive elements except for 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 remain open to additional help if needed.

The ice wall would freeze the ground to a depth of up to 30 meters 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 is set for completion in 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.