More experts challenge Tepco's 'Great Icewall' for Fukushima No. 1


Experts on Friday heaped further criticism on a plan to build a costly underground frozen wall around the radiation-tainted Fukushima No. 1 power plant, a development that could delay the start of the experimental project.

The experts and nuclear regulatory officials said at a meeting in Tokyo on Friday that they weren’t convinced the project can resolve the serious problems involving contaminated water at the plant, which suffered multiple meltdowns following the 2011 megaquake and tsunami.

The frozen wall is a ¥32 billion state-funded project to surround the plant’s four crippled reactors and turbine buildings with an ice wall to block groundwater from flowing into their basements and mixing with highly radioactive water leaking from the cores.

Toyoshi Fuketa, a commissioner with the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said the hydrological impact of creating a frozen wall in the area was unclear.

“We need to know if a frozen wall is really effective, and more importantly, we need to know whether a frozen wall may cause any trouble,” Fuketa said.

Government officials say a feasibility test at the plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co., proved successful and that they hope to start construction in June, though the project could be delayed because of the experts’ concerns.

International experts have raised similar concerns.

Dale Klein, a former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman who now heads a supervisory panel for Tepco, on Thursday said he was not convinced the frozen wall is the best option and worth the high cost. He also suggested that the government and Tepco review the plan to balance risk and benefit and see whether they should spend the money elsewhere.

“Any time you make a decision, it should be based on current, relevant science, and you have to strike a balance between science and policy,” Klein said in an interview in Tokyo. “At the end of the day, it may be a good alternative. But I’m just not convinced.”

Experts have said that while the wall is a proven technology, the size and planned duration of use at Fukushima is unprecedented.

Tepco is setting up a bypass system to pump up groundwater before it hits the contaminated reactor area as a way to reduce the amount of underground contaminated water. The plant is also installing another groundwater drainage system around the reactor buildings, which some experts say could serve as a sufficient alternative to an ice wall.

More than three years after the March 2011 meltdowns, the plant is still plagued by a massive amount of contaminated water. Repeated water leaks from storage tanks and other mishaps at the plant have hampered a decommissioning effort that is expected to take decades and caused environmental concerns among local fishermen.