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Japan to build ice barrier to contain Fukushima leaks

06 September 2013

The Japanese government has announced a programme to build a wall of frozen water around the Fukushima nuclear plant to halt radioactive leaks. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga estimated that 47bn yen ($473m) would be needed, with a further 15bn yen spent on equipment to decontaminate radioactive water currently being stored at the plant.

The position of the ice barrier is outlined in blue in this image
The position of the ice barrier is outlined in blue in this image

Around 400 tonnes of water a day is continually pumped around reactor cores at the plant to prevent overheating, creating vast volumes of contaminated water. 

Fukushima operator TEPCO announced in August that large quantities of highly radioactive water had leaked from one of the tanks at the tsunami-damaged plant. The report confirmed that coolant has been seeping into the soil beneath the reactor and flowing into the sea at a rate of about 300 tonnes a day.

Under the government plan, a wall of frozen earth 1.4km long and 27 metres deep will be created around the four damaged reactors using pipes filled with coolant. The barrier should prevent groundwater coming into contact with the contaminated water from the plant.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has pledged increasing involvement by the government in the cleanup operation following criticism of TEPCO’s capacity to properly deal with the situation.

“Instead of leaving this up to TEPCO, the government will step forward and take charge,” said Abe. “The world is watching if we can properly handle the contaminated water but also the entire decommissioning of the plant.”

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