Ice wall to shield ocean from nuclear radiation

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

EPSON DSC picture
Power plants often carry dangerous materials and need to be monitored meticulously (with careful attention to details).

Almost 3 years ago, a gigantic earthquake hit Japan, which was followed shortly thereafter by a tsunami. Many lives were lost, and several buildings were damaged. Among them was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which houses tons of radioactive material! If that reminds you of mutants with three eyes and fishes with human arms, it should. High levels of radioactive chemicals are harmful to living organisms, especially if they consume contaminated food and water.

According to Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) – a company in Japan that operates the power plant – around 400 tons of water from mountains stream into the power plant’s toxic reactor building, which contains dangerous chemicals. This leads to contaminated groundwater that leaks back into the ocean every day! Oh, this is bad. However, on Tuesday, the Japanese government approved a new multi-million dollar plan to freeze the ground around Fukushima’s toxic reactor buildings in an attempt to stop any more contamination!

Freeze the Earth around the building, what the heck? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the company to pump water back into the building or something? I like your train of thought, and actually, that has been TEPCO’s plan of action in the past. However, the plan wasn’t well executed. Basically, the power plant already holds around 300,000 gallons of contaminated water in special tanks. In order to pump the tainted groundwater, TEPCO quickly made extra flimsy tanks to hold the toxic liquid. I say flimsy, because not only are the tanks in danger of breaking if another earthquake hits, some of the containers have already cracked and spilled more contamination into the ocean!

According to experienced specialists, the best way to stop the contaminated water is to build an underground ice wall around Fukushima’s four reactor buildings. Here’s how it’d work: First, pipes will be drilled into the ground around the perimeter, 3 feet apart from each other, kind of like the thick poles in a chain link fence. Then, a super cold substance will be pumped into the pipes, which will suck out all the heat in the ground (let’s tip our hats to the millions of brave bugs that will lose their lives in the process). As the ground gets really cold, it will freeze around the pipes, forming a solid chunk of ice around the plant in about six weeks. Theoretically, any contaminated water trying to escape will either be blocked by the ice or freeze before reaching the ocean.

What about a really hot summer? Will the ice wall melt away? Daniel Mageau, vice president and design engineer for Seattle-based contractor SoilFreeze, points out the wall “would take months or years to thaw,” so any power outages won’t be an immediate threat.

Well, this does seem like the perfect solution, so why didn’t TEPCO use this as their plan A? Well, I can’t say for sure, but I bet money had a lot to do with it. You see, it takes a great deal of energy to keep the wall frozen. However, as one of the members involved in the project states,  “For the scope of the problem that Japan has, it’s not a lot of energy.”

Images courtesy of kawamoto takuo on Flickr.