Japan’s ‘ice wall’ a problematic sticking plaster at Fukushima — The Nation

” Three years ago, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe helped Tokyo win its bid to host the 2020 Olympics by declaring that the situation at the crisis-wracked Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station was under control.

That has turned out to be not quite true.

Japan has yet to resolve a crisis at the plant that has lingered since its 2011 nuclear disaster: Groundwater has continued to flow into the basement of the highly contaminated facility. Even worse, some of that has then flown back into the Pacific Ocean.

The problem has hindered a decommission process that was already set to take decades.

In order to reduce the flow, Tokyo has built a huge underground ice wall around reactor buildings. But the 1.5-kilometre-long and 30-metre-deep barrier has not fully frozen, even though it was supposed to become operational around July. The unprecedented project cost taxpayers about 35 billion yen (Bt11.9 billion).

“They have kept saying they can. But they can’t,” former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi told a recent news conference.

Abe’s “under control” remark was “a lie”, Koizumi said. “I’m just wondering how he can say such a thing.”

The phrase “ice wall” is a bit of a misnomer. Officially called the Land-side Impermeable Wall, the coolant-filled barrier will consist of a layer of soil kept frozen by underground pipes, surrounding reactors 1 to 4.

The ice wall project “has stayed on track”, said Tasuhiro Yamagishi, a spokesman for operator Tokyo Electric Power. He added 99 per cent of the wall closest to the sea has been frozen.

The operator, however, acknowledged this month that rainfall from recent typhoons caused melting at two sections of the ice wall in mid-August, leading toxic water to leak from around the plant.

Nonetheless, no contaminated water flowed into the sea, the operator said.

Such statements have not convinced Hisataka Yamazaki, a member of the Tokyo-based Depleted Uranium Centre Japan.

He says he believed there was some leakage, saying the incident was “very serious”.

“As the Fukushima area was not hard-hit by the storms, the incident gave rise to fears that even heavier rain could cause more melting, allowing more toxic water to flow into the nearby Pacific Ocean,” Yamazaki said.

“At this moment, we are looking into the matter and considering what is the best way” to avoid a recurrence, Yamagishi said.

“We know that temporary measures would not work,” said Hideyuki Ban, co-director at Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre in Tokyo.

“I believe we can say the project has failed.”

In June 2014, the operator started to install equipment for the wall at the plant and completed the work in February. It started to freeze the dirt at the end of March.

“From the beginning, there was doubt whether the wall could be fully frozen,” Ban said.

The water crisis could prolong the decommissioning period, he added.

The Fukushima plant suffered meltdowns at three of its six reactors after a tsunami swept through the complex in March 2011. The operator continues to inject water into the three reactors to keep them cool.

About 100,000 residents have yet to return to their homes near the plant due to radiation contamination.

Koizumi said Japan’s worst nuclear accident led him to revisit nuclear energy issues and came to realise that what experts said about nuclear energy being safe, cheap and clean was “all lies”.

I was ashamed of having believed such lies,” said Koizumi, who served as premier between 2001 and 2006.

Koizumi, who is now an anti-nuclear campaigner, said: “While Tokyo Electric and other power companies are saying they give the highest priority to safety, they actually place priority on profits and put safety on the back-burner.” “

by Takehiko Kambayashi

source

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