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article imageChief architect for Fukushima ice wall — It is not water-tight

By Karen Graham     Apr 30, 2016 in Environment
Tokyo - Japanese officials activated a portion of the mile-long ice wall built around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant several weeks ago in an effort to stop groundwater from reaching the reactors.
For the past five years, ever since that March day in 2011 when disaster struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, radiation-contaminated water has been seeping from the reactors.
Groundwater seeps into the power plant reactors and becomes irradiated before it seeps out. Tokyo Electric Power Co. or TEPCO has been storing that contaminated water in huge storage tanks. So far, there are over 1,000 tanks covering the grounds of the power plant and more are being built, reported Digital Journal.
The $312 million ice wall was completed last month and a portion of the mile-long structure was activated on April 4, with the rest of the structure to be activated over the next few months. But Yuichi Okamura, a chief architect of the massive project says the ice wall will not block all the groundwater from reaching the damaged reactors. Once the wall is fully operational, it will require as much electricity as would power 13,000 homes.
A worker wearing a protective suit and mask takes notes in front of storage tanks for radioactive wa...
A worker wearing a protective suit and mask takes notes in front of storage tanks for radioactive water, during a media tour at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
Toru Hanai, Pool/AFP/File
"It's not zero," Okamura said in an interview with the Associated Press last week. He pointed out that even if the ice wall works as it was envisioned to work, it still won't stop all the water from reaching the damaged reactors because of gaps in the wall and rainfall creating as much as 50 tons of contaminated water each day.
Okamura is also a general manager at TEPCO. He said that workers have rigged pipes that spray water continuously on the reactors to keep them from overheating. Of course, the major headache has been what to do with the contaminated water. It does build up and starts seeping out.
This is why the containment tanks were used, and now the whole facility is packed with tanks of contaminated water. And more are needed. "It's a vicious cycle, like a cat-and-mouse game," Okamura said of the water-related issues. "We have come up against many unexpected problems."
Water is not the only problem TEPCO is facing. It will take over 40 years to dismantle the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and no one has ever seen the nuclear debris in the plant, itself. Why? Because it is so radioactive that a human cannot come near it.
TEPCO engineers say they are developing robots to go inside the reactor rooms to send back pictures of the debris, but as was reported last month, the robots sent inside the plant have so far all "died" because of the high radiation levels. Even if TEPCO can determine what and how much radioactive debris is left inside the reactors rooms, how will they manage its removal?
A look inside the No. 2 reactor core at Fukushima in January  2015.
A look inside the No. 2 reactor core at Fukushima in January, 2015.
Considered high-level radioactive waste, it will require special precautions by humans, including remote handling and use of shielding. Added to this is the fact that water is still being used to keep the reactors from overheating and causing an even bigger disaster than what they already are dealing with.
The ice wall has had its detractors, right from the start. Shigeaki Tsunoyama, an honorary professor and former president of the University of Aizu in Fukushima says building a concrete wall into the hill near the plant right after the disaster would have minimized the groundwater problem.
He added that because of the prevalence of groundwater at Fukushima, the reduced amount of 50 tons of water a day still amounts to what came out of Three Mile Island's total in just eight months. Even though TEPCO says the groundwater problem will be solved by 2020, Tsunoyama said in a telephone interview, "The groundwater coming up from below can never become zero. There is no perfect answer."
More about Fukushima ice wall, chief architect, Contaminated water, Groundwater, Pacific ocean
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