Japan plans 'ice wall' to corral radioactive water at Fukushima

Sept. 3, 2013 at 6:48 PM
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TOKYO, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Japan says it will create a $320 million underground "ice wall" to stop radioactive contaminated water from the damaged Fukushima plant from reaching the sea.

In the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that damaged the nuclear power plant, cooling systems to the reactors were knocked out and three of them melted down, requiring cooling water to be pumped into them to keep them cool.

Storing the resultant large quantities of radioactive water has proved a challenge for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. and there are fears it may be contaminating groundwater and eventually reach the sea.

Government officials said a wall of frozen earth will be created around the reactors using pipes filled with coolant to prevent contaminated water from coming in contact with groundwater.

Experts said it's not just the storage containers that are a source of water contamination.

"There's an aquifer underneath the plant that runs out to the sea, like an underground river," Bill Horak, chair of nuclear science and technology at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, told ABC News. "It picks up contaminants that have leaked into the ground, and no one has a good handle on how contaminated that water is."

The situation at the nuclear power plant was an "unprecedented crisis" and it was "getting worse," Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, told the BBC.

The plan to freeze the ground around the site was "challenging," he said, noting the technique has been used on a small scale to control pollution before but not with radioactive contamination.

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