Recent revelations that the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has been gushing radioactive water into the ocean have forced the Japanese government to step in amid concerns that the plant’s operator, TEPCO, is unable to manage the crisis. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced today that the government is taking charge of the cleanup with two projects estimated to cost 47 billion yen ($470 million).

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In the first project, Japan aims to build a wall of ice meant to block further contaminated water from leaking, which will cost an estimated $320 million. The remaining $150 million will go toward upgraded water-treatment plants that will remove almost all radioactive elements from the water (but not, notably, the water-soluble element tritium.) This doesn’t mean the government plans to foot the entire bill for the Fukushima cleanup. The funding will be limited to “technologically challenging projects,” while TEPCO is expected to pay up for water tanks and other equipment to stop the leaks.

It’s worth noting that the use of an ice wall to contain nuclear waste is not a proven long-term solution, and some experts are skeptical that the technology will even work as intended. The process of rendering the area completely safe is expected to take about 40 years, but a similar underground wall in the US has only been in use for six years, so there’s little long-term data on its efficacy. It’s also expected to incur huge operating costs over the next several decades — so it’s quite possible that the Japanese government will end up paying much more than these initial estimates in years to come.


Images (c) Kawamoto Takuo