Radioactive water full of carcinogenic chemicals is leaking out of the Fukushima power plant at a critical rate, critical enough for the Nuclear Regulation Authority to deem the situation an "emergency". It's one of those desperate times, and the measures under consideration sound a little bit desperate.
One of the leading candidates for a solution to TEPCO's radioactive water problem involves building a mile-long underground ice wall around the plant to contain the leak. The idea is to drive vertical pipes spaced about a meter apart between 20m and 40m into the ground and to pump coolant through them. This would effectively create a barrier of permafrost around the affected buildings, keeping the contaminated water in and groundwater out. Kajima, the company that built the plant, is currently putting together a feasibility plant for the project which they say could be done by mid 2015. It's a relatively simple job, but it's going to be expensive.
But, hey, you can't put a price on not poisoning unsuspecting citizens. Again, the radioactive water leak is really bad. Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it an "urgent problem", and it's not a problem that's going to fix itself. The ice wall is also a proven method and one that the clean up crew at Fukushima has considered before. The strategy was used as early as the 1860s to shore up coal mines, and an experiment at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee recently showed that it can be used to contain radiation.
As one expert on frozen-earth projects told Bloomberg News, it's kind of the natural answer at this point. "When nothing else will work," he said, "it just jumps out at you and says 'Wow, it's a freeze job.'" Because what other kind of job would it be? [Bloomberg]