” FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI NUCLEAR POWER STATION — The part above ground doesn’t look like much, a few silver pipes running in a straight line, dwarfed by the far more massive, scarred reactor buildings nearby.
More impressive is what is taking shape unseen beneath: an underground wall of frozen dirt 100 feet deep and nearly a mile in length, intended to solve a runaway water crisis threatening the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan.
Officially named the Land-Side Impermeable Wall, but better known simply as the ice wall, the project sounds like a fanciful idea from science fiction or a James Bond film. But it is about to become a reality in an ambitious, and controversial, bid to halt an unrelenting flood of groundwater into the damaged reactor buildings since the disaster five years ago when an earthquake and a tsunami caused a triple meltdown.
Built by the central government at a cost of 35 billion yen, or some $320 million, the ice wall is intended to seal off the reactor buildings within a vast, rectangular-shaped barrier of man-made permafrost.”
“The reactor buildings are vulnerable to an influx of groundwater because of how the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, built the plant in the 1960s, by cutting away a hillside to place it closer to the sea, so the plant could pump in water more easily. That also put the buildings in contact with a deep layer of permeable rock filled with water, mostly rain and melted snow from the nearby Abukuma Mountains, that flows to the Pacific.
The buildings managed to keep the water out until the accident on March 11, 2011. Either the natural disasters themselves, or the explosive meltdowns of three of the plant’s six reactors that followed, are believed to have cracked the buildings’ basements, allowing groundwater to pour in. Nearly 40,000 gallons of water a day keep flooding into the buildings.
Once inside, the water becomes highly radioactive, impeding efforts to eventually dismantle the plant. During the accident, the uranium fuel grew so hot that some of it is believed to have melted through the reactor’s steel floors and possibly into the basement underneath, though no one knows exactly where it lies. The continual flood of radioactive water has prevented engineers from searching for the fuel.
Since the accident, five robots sent into the reactor buildings have failed to return because of high radiation levels and obstruction from debris.”