(NaturalNews) Japanese government officials have announced that Tokyo will spend $470 million to build a subterranean ice wall and take additional measures in what appears to be a desperate attempt to stop leaks of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear plant after repeated failures to staunch the flow by the plant's operator.
Many see the scheme as an attempt to demonstrate to the International Olympic Committee that the nuclear accident won't be a safety issue before the sports body chooses between Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
Reports have consistently noted that the plant is continuing to leak hundreds of tons of contaminated underground water into the surrounding ocean since right after a massive earthquake-induced tsunami struck the plant in March 2011. A number of leaks from tanks that are storing most of the radioactive water in recent weeks have led to a sense of crisis among policymakers that the plant's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, is still not able to handle the problem.
"Instead of leaving this up to TEPCO, the government will step forward and take charge," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after agreeing to the ice wall concept. "The world is watching if we can properly handle the contaminated water but also the entire decommissioning of the plant."
There are skeptics
As reported by PhysOrg:
The government plans to spend an estimated 47 billion yen ($470 million) through the end of March 2015 on two projects--32 billion yen ($320 million) on the ice wall and 15 billion yen ($150 million) on an upgraded water treatment unit that is supposed to remove all radioactive elements except water-soluble tritium--according to energy agency official Tatsuya Shinkawa.
However, the government has not agreed to pay for urgently needed water tanks and other equipment that TEPCO is employing to contain the leaks. Shinkawa said government funding is limited specifically to "technologically challenging projects," but that the government is nevertheless open to providing additional assistance when it is required.
Reports said that the ice wall would freeze the ground to a depth of around 30 meters, or about 100 feet, through a system of pipes carrying a coolant material that will reach a temperature of -40 F. That, say concept designers, should block contaminated water from entering the reactor and turbine buildings, where a great deal of the radioactive water has collected.
The project, proposed by TEPCO and the Japanese government in May, is currently undergoing testing for feasibility by Kajima Corp., a major Japanese construction firm. It is to be completed by March 2015.
Similar techniques have been utilized to block water from parts of tunnels and subways, but constructing a nearly 1-mile long wall that surrounds four reactor buildings and related facilities has never been done or tried.
Decommissioning of the crippled plant will take four decades
MIT Technology Review magazine reported that an underground ice wall has been used to isolate radioactive waste at the U.S. Department of Energy's former nuclear weapons development site at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, but that wall was only active for six years.
A few experts have scoffed at the concept, adding that the technology is questionable and that the long-term costs would be great:
Atsunao Marui, an underground water expert at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said a frozen wall could be water-tight but is normally intended for use for a few years and is not proven for long-term use as planned in the outline. The decommissioning process is expected to take about 40 years.
"We still need a few layers of safety backups in case it fails," Marui told The Associated Press. "Plus the frozen wall won't be ready for another two years, which means contaminated water would continue to leak out."