An international nuclear expert expressed skepticism Thursday about Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plan to set up an experimental ice wall to ultimately stop radioactive water from escaping from the troubled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
“I’m not convinced that the freeze wall is the best option,” former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein, who heads a supervisory panel tasked with overseeing the operator’s nuclear safety efforts, said in an interview with Kyodo News.
“What I’m concerned about is unintended consequences,” Klein said.
“Where does that water go and what are the consequences of that? I think they need more testing and more analysis,” he said.
Former British Atomic Energy Authority Chairwoman Barbara Judge, who was also present at the interview in Tokyo and is part of the panel, said there is a need to assess during the summer whether the ice wall method will work.
The remarks by the two overseas experts came at a time when concerns over the plan are being raised by the Nuclear Regulation Authority and engineering experts. Their opinions may cast a shadow on Tepco’s plan to begin operating the ice wall by the end of next March.
“No one has built a freeze wall this long for this period of time. Typically, you build a freeze wall for a few months,” Klein said.
Faced with a string of problems including radioactive water leaks at the Fukushima plant, Tepco will try to freeze 1.5 km of soil around the leaking basements of reactors 1 to 4.
The ice wall is meant to block groundwater from seeping into the buildings’ basements and mixing with highly toxic water used to cool the three crippled reactors.
“I am much in favor of the bypass system,” Klein said, referring to the groundwater bypass system used by Tepco to divert groundwater from the plant into the sea to reduce the amount of water seeping into the reactor buildings.
“The freeze wall is expensive,” he said, urging Tepco and the government to look at the cost of building one and whether the plan is making the “best use of limited resources.”
“I would encourage them to get international advice a little bit more,” Klein said of Tepco’s decontamination and decommissioning plans.
He also urged Tepco to work with and share information with authorities in the United States and Britain, given that they are more experienced in water management and decontamination at former military or weapons-related sites.