After weeks of deliberation, the Japanese government has finally intervened in the increasingly desperate situation at Fukushima. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a $US470 million plan to contain the leaking radioactive water at the nuclear power plant by building a giant wall of ice underground. And guess who's going to pay for it (hint: not TEPCO).
The taxpayers are going to foot the bill, of course. With up to 360 tonnes of radioactive groundwater leaking out to sea every day, Abe said that the situation required "radical measures" after TEPCO's "haphazard" handling of the problem. And this ice wall idea is pretty radical. The plan involves pumping coolant through underground pipes to freeze the soil around the reactor buildings. Workers will also use some of the funding to remove radionuclides from the contaminated water on site, including the hundreds of leaky storage drums on site.
Though the leaks have been a problem for months, the timing of the Japanese government's intervention seems pretty deliberate. In just a few days, the International Olympic Committee will decide who will host the 2020 Olympic Games. With Tokyo as the frontrunner, some observers worry that the situation at Fukushima will hurt Japan's chances to host. Abe also insisted that the government present a "fundamental resolution" to the clean up effort. "The world is paying attention to whether we can realise the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi, including the contaminated water problem," said the prime minister.
Inevitably, the Japanese government's move to take over the clean-up effort seems like a step in the right direction. TEPCO's received nothing but criticism and doubt about its handling of the situation, so it's a bit of a relief that the government's stepped in, even if the taxpayers have to foot the bill. Of course, who knows if they'll actually do a better job.