• Kyodo

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A miniature version of the experimental underground ice wall slated to be built around the stricken reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant was shown to the media Friday.

The government and general contractor Kajima Corp. intend to build a massive frozen wall of dirt around the cracked basements of reactors 1 to 4 to stop groundwater from seeping in and mingling with the tons of radioactive water churned out by their jury-rigged cooling systems each day.

The perimeter of the giant Fukushima freezer is expected to be 1.5 km long.

By contrast, the frozen wall shown to media on Friday enclosed an area of only 10 sq. meters. It was built by inserting a line of pipes into the ground, each spaced about a meter apart. The pipes are circulating a liquid that’s cold enough to cause the earth around them to freeze like tundra. Officials said they have confirmed that groundwater is not penetrating the wall.

Beleaguered plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. wants to start building the giant freezer in June, but that could be pushed back because nuclear regulators and international experts have expressed concern about the safety and effectiveness of the unprecedented project.

Impermeable walls of this nature are used in civil engineering projects like subway construction but have never been employed on such a large scale or run for a prolonged time.

The wall was near the No. 4 reactor building, which was damaged by a hydrogen explosion in the early stages of the March 2011 nuclear crisis. The frozen ground was so hard that it was difficult to insert a shovel. Groundwater was only seen outside the wall.

The freezing process began on March 14 and was completed 11 days later. After pumping up groundwater from within the frozen enclosure, no additional water has been observed, the bureaucrats and Kajima officials said.

The Fukushima No. 1 plant is rapidly running out of space to store the radioactive water accumulating in the buildings. While some of the water from the cooling process is filtered and recirculated, the experimental filtering machines are still in the testing stage and can’t keep up with the volume of all the tainted water being produced, which is estimated at around 400 tons per day.

The government is trying to take a greater role in addressing the toxic water buildup and is poised to spend ¥32 billion on the wall’s construction, but they are running out of time. Many of the hundreds of metal water tanks dotting the complex are leaky and sitting on a mound of earth overlooking the complex that has shown signs of subsidence.

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