According to Japan’s Natural Resources and Energy Agency, Fukushima Daiichi, a nuclear plant just 130 miles northeast of Tokyo is leaking roughly 300 tons of highly radioactive water into the Pacific per day (enough to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool in one week). Authorities have recently classified the water leakage situation as “an emergency,” and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered the government to step-in and help clean-up. The current plans is build a one mile long wall of frozen soil around the reactor buildings to act as a barrier to prevent more groundwater from becoming radioactive.
The project proposes to freeze the soil by running coolant through sinking pipes surrounding key reactor facilities, and it has been estimated to cost up to 40 billion yen, or $410 million. In an interview with the Japan Times, Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated, “There is no precedent in the world to create a water-shielding wall with frozen soil on such a large scale.”
The plant, owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), was damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami two and a half years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that the company admitted to any water leakage caused by these catastrophes. However, high levels of radioactivity have been detected in wells in the plant site and a nearby port, and as early as January of this year, TEPCO found fish contaminated with high levels of radiation in these same areas. Several Japanese media outlets have predicted that in just a few weeks the contaminated water could breach the ground surface. As of right now plans for the wall are still in the preliminary stages, but some experts are already skeptical of the its ability to contain these chemicals in the long-term.
Both Greenpeace and the Prime Minister Abe agree that TEPCO is not capable of dealing with this situation on their own, and the Japanese government is now investigating ways to aid in the clean up. This effort represents a significant shift in the approach of the Japanese government, which until recently has kept their involvement with Fukushima Daiichi‘s problems to a minimum. While TEPCO did receive ¥1 trillion ($10.30 billion) injection of capital when the government effectively nationalized the company last year, they have yet to contribute funds allocated specifically to aid in TEPCO’s efforts to clean up, control or dismantle the reactors. During a recent press conference Secretary Suga stated that the work needed to prevent contamination from spreading was too much for TEPCO to handle alone, and ”in order to get this done, the country will have to step forward and lend a hand.” He went on to explain how additional funds will be made available to help them to contain the flow of contaminated water.