The Japanese government yesterday announced that it will spend US$470 million on a subterranean ice wall and other steps in a desperate bid to stop leaks of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear station after repeated failures by the plant’s operator.
The decision is widely seen as an attempt to show that the nuclear accident will not be a safety concern just days before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chooses between Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid as the host of the 2020 Olympics. The decision will be announced on Saturday.
The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has been leaking hundreds of tonnes 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 (TEPCO), is not able to contain the problem.
“Instead of leaving this up to TEPCO, the government will step forward and take charge,” Japanese 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 (US$470 million) through the end of March 2015 on two projects — ￥32 billion on the ice wall and ￥15 billion on upgraded water treatment units that is supposed to remove all radioactive elements but water-soluble tritium — according to energy agency official Tatsuya Shinkawa.
However, the government is not paying for urgently needed water tanks and other equipment that TEPCO is using to stop leaks.
The ice wall would freeze the ground to a depth of up to 30m through an electrical system of thin pipes carrying a coolant as cold as minus 40?C. 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 and set for completion by March 2015.