The icewall cometh: Japan’s new plan to fix Fukushima

The Japanese government pledged $470 million to bring the rapidly escalating nuclear crisis under control

Topics: Fukushima, Japan, Nuclear Power, Nuclear Reactor, Olympics, Tokyo, , ,

Deciding that enough is enough, the Japanese government today pledged to take charge of efforts to contain the radioactive water leaking from the crippled Fukushima nuclear site. It’s backing its action with $470 million which will be used, among other things, to build a subterranean ice wall:

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

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 upgraded water treatment units that is supposed to remove all radioactive elements but water-soluble tritium — according to energy agency official Tatsuya Shinkawa.

The government, however, is not paying for urgently needed water tanks and other equipment that TEPCO is using to stop leaks. Shinkawa said the funding is limited to “technologically challenging projects” but the government will open to additional help when needed.

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It’s a desperate attempt to control an increasingly desperate situation, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Back when the idea of an ice wall was first proposed, The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal explained not only would such a project be feasible, but it’s actually been done before — hundreds of times. Still, as the Associated Press notes, the 2-mile perimeter needed to surround Fukushima’s four reactor buildings are unprecedented.

The announcement comes after news emerged this weekend that new leaks were potentially occurring in the tanks used to store the plant’s contaminated water. As it’s also been noted, though, it also comes days before the International Olympic Committee is set to choose the site of the 2020 Olympics, for which Tokyo is a contended. Although the plant’s decommissioning process is expected to take 40 years, the government may be trying to demonstrate that it can bring everything under control well before that.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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