About two years ago, the Japanese government pledged millions of dollars for a huge ice wall designed to halt flowing groundwater at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power station after the 2011 meltdown. Now, $320 million later, the wall is nearly ready, but will it work? Critics wonder if the “elaborate and fragile wall” will last.
Groundwater flowing into the plant’s reactor buildings has caused major issues. When it enters the buildings, it becomes radioactive, and Fukushima’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, has to put the water in tanks. They’ve had to build over 1,000 tanks and are now storing over 800,000 tons of the water. Meanwhile, every day around 40,000 gallons of groundwater continues to flow into the buildings.
The controversial ice wall, known as the Land-Side Impermeable Wall, is supposed to halt the groundwater flow and stop radioactive water from leaking into the Pacific Ocean. The 100-foot-deep and nearly a mile-long ice wall is comprised of pipes filled with a brine solution. The pipes are meant to freeze the surrounding soil to create the wall. Still solidifying, the wall could be ready later this fall. 30 refrigeration units will solidify the wall; they will consume as much electricity as 13,000 homes in Japan could use for lighting in one year.
Tepco said the seaside portion of the ice wall is “about 99 percent solid” this month. They’re working to fill a few places that haven’t solidified with cement. Engineers from Kajima Corporation, the company building the wall, say the soil around the pipes will likely only be frozen completely in around two months.
So will the ice wall actually work? Some worry the brine solution will break down the pipes, and some say concrete or steel would have been a more simple, effective alternative. Radiation monitoring group Safecast researcher Azby Brown called the ice wall a “Hail Mary play.” He told The New York Times, “Tepco underestimated the groundwater problem in the beginning, and now Japan is trying to catch up with a massive technical fix that is very expensive.”