A Wall Of Ice: Japanese Engineers Come Up With A Novel–And Untested–Way To Contain Radioactive Leakage
In the wake of the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan, one of the biggest problems facing the cleanup crews is that radioactive water has been and continues to leak from the damaged reactors. But now the engineers working for the plant’s operator, TEPCO think they have hit on a novel new way to contain the leakage: a wall of ice.
TEPCO engineers have switched on a massive refrigeration system designed to–hopefully–build an underground ice wall surrounding the damaged reactors. Previous attempts to control the leaking have failed to work, but the company is hopeful that the decontamination and decommissioning of the plant will be able to get underway once the leaking is controlled.
The engineers have been installing hundreds of pipes 100 feet underground, with the aim of creating a one mile long barrier of frozen soil surrounding the four damaged reactor buildings and their turbines. The idea is that the frozen earth would prevent groundwater from flowing into the area, as well as preventing radioactive water from leaking out. The massive project is digging down to the depth equivalent to that of a 10-story building, piping coolant through the pipes that will freeze the surrounding soil to minus 22 Fahrenheit.
Because the cores of the reactors were damaged in the meltdown, they must constantly be cooled off with water to prevent them from overheating again. This water then is rendered radioactive and leaks out from damaged areas in the buildings’ basements, contaminating groundwater. Thus far this cycle of cooling water and contaminating it has racked up over 800,000 tons of radioactive water that is being stored in close to 1,000 tanks crammed into every spare space on the plant’s grounds.
With space quickly running out, the engineers hit on the idea of the frozen wall of earth in order to prevent further leaking and allow them the time to decontaminate and decommission the plant.
Fukushima officials say the coolant system is safe, and that a test of it, while bringing back mixed results, was sufficient to effectively freeze a piece of wall into the soil. TEPCO claims that once frozen into the ground, the wall can remain in place even in the face of a power failure for up to two months.
And we certainly have no reason not to trust them, right?