Five years ago, Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear power plant, along with all of Japan, was rocked by a devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The earthquake, measuring at 6.6 on the richter scale, created a massive 15 meter wave that took out the Daiichi reactors and wreaked havoc on the country. Within three days, all three cores melted down. For a few months, it was all anyone could talk about–what the melt down meant for the world at large, and what could possibly be done about it. Soon after, though, as humans are wont to do, we forgot about it. But that didn’t mean the problem was gone.
In the five years since, almost a million tons of radioactive water has been stored in over a thousand massive tanks, while countless more have leaked into the ocean. Japan was at a loss for a solution. Now, though, they might have figured out a way to finally fix the issue: a giant subterranean ice wall, reaching far beneath the power plant down to the bedrock below. If the plan is successful, the groundwater will run into the ice wall, then make its way around the contaminated area on its way to the ocean.
According to the Huffington Post, the wall “consists of a series of underground refrigeration pipes meant to form a frozen soil barrier around the four reactors that were crippled.”
The wall, payed for by the Japanese government, was finally finished last month, over a year after its scheduled completion date. All told, the ice wall cost $312 million, and is a mile long.
Last week, TEPCO, the company that owns the plant hit the start button. “We will create an impermeable barrier by freezing the soil itself all the way down to the bedrock that exists below the plant,” said TEPCO. “When groundwater flowing downhill reaches this frozen barrier, it will flow around the reactor buildings, reaching the sea just as it always has, but without contacting the contaminated water within the reactor buildings.”
So far, the company has only activated a portion of the wall. In the upcoming months, the rest of it will be fired up, assuming the first part is successful.
Although hopes are high, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, warned that the plan is by no means foolproof. “It would be best to think that natural phenomena don’t work the way you would expect,” he said one day before the wall was activated.