The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is about to start using an “ice wall” that will divert flowing groundwater away from the destroyed reactors at Fukushima in order to help prevent contamination.
The barrier is actually made up of frozen soil than a literal wall of ice. Luckily, radiation cleanup experts in the United States believe that the Japanese barrier will function properly. Experts also acknowledge that the barrier does not have to function perfectly, as long as it minimizes the exposure of groundwater to radiation from the reactors.
Engineer for the United States Department of Energy Brian Looney said, “The frozen barrier is going to work. The goal of the barrier is to minimize flow to the reactors. You don’t actually need 100 percent effectiveness to reach that goal.” Looney was part of an independent assessment of Japan’s frozen barrier. The study found that the barrier should perform as intended.
Since 2011, when meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant took place, TEPCO has been having a hard time in preventing groundwater from becoming contaminated. This ground water flows downhill towards the sea, thus causing ocean pollution.
TEPCO used to have to suck 300 to 400 tons of contaminated water out of reactor buildings on a daily basis. The company had to store this water somewhere, leading to the construction of several massive storage tanks for radioactive water. The new barrier should help alleviate the stress that TEPCO was facing in containing the water.
The plan consists of establishing a 1.5 kilometer long and 30 meter deep wall of frozen soil that will surround the reactor buildings, preventing groundwater from entering into the buildings and becoming contaminated. The soil will reportedly be cooled to -22 degrees Fahrenheit.
While this technique has often been applied at mines and deep excavations for tall buildings, the idea at Fukushima has attracted negative attention because of the lack of confidence in TEPCO following the company’s handling of the plant’s meltdown. Additionally, some media outlets misreported the story, saying that the company was intending to freeze contaminated sea water.
Furthermore, this frozen wall is considerably larger in size than that of most other frozen walls that have been used in the past, leading some experts to believe that it will not function properly.
However, experts in the United States are saying that the wall should work just fine. The research team in the United States cited other frozen walls that were larger in size than the one to be used in Fukushima, thereby indicating that the new wall should be good to go.
The researchers in the United States did acknowledge the fact that some intended areas of the wall could possibly resist freezing. However they came up with several solutions, and they also stated that minor leaks would not be cause for major concern.
For now, freezing the soil will take a couple of months before the barrier is established and ready to prevent the flow of groundwater. But if it works properly like experts are expecting, it will put an end to the long and tedious battle that TEPCO has had in controlling the flow of water.