Following reports of the fifth leak since last year, the Japanese government has taken control of operations to deal with contaminated water issues at the beleaguered Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.
Apparently losing patience with the plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and its efforts to deal with the problems, the government has ordered the creation of a 2-mile long underground wall of ice to stop further toxic leaks into the Pacific Ocean. It has pledged 47 billion yen (£304 million) to fund the project.
Tepco has now admitted that radiation from the 1,000 or so steel tanks on site had been allowed to seep out in potentially lethal concentrations. The tanks contain contaminated water used to cool reactors, and 350 of them have vulnerable rubber seams with a shelf life of only five years.
This news was followed on Monday 2nd September by a statement from the head of the country’s new nuclear regulatory body, Shunichi Tanaka, that radioactive water had already reached the ocean.
In order to create the giant ice wall, chemical coolant will be pumped into a network of underground pipes to freeze the ground around the plant. Temperatures would be maintained at -40C to a depth of up to 30 m. However, the ice wall could take up to two years to complete, with the risk of further leakages in the meantime.
The full decommissioning of Fukushima could take as long as 40 years. Tepco plans to start removal of fuel rods this November, but the government has yet to decide on a suitable site for storage.