3 Sep 2013

Japanese government moves to fix Fukushima

Japan is to accelerate efforts to stop radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant after more bad news from the site, although the announcement may be timed to enhance the country’s Olympic bid.

Japan will spend 47bn yen (£300m) on freezing groundwater beneath the plant’s leaking reactors to prevent radioactive cooling water entering the ocean and to build new treatment facilities to clean up the site.

The intervention comes after weeks of bad news from the plant’s operators, TEPCO, which is responsible for clean-up of the four reactors at the facility which melted down following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Two weeks ago TEPCO announced contaminated cooling water was leaking out of storage tanks. This weekend hotspots of potentially lethal radiation were found at near the same storage tanks. The company has been widely criticised for delays in the clean-up operation and a lack of openness in giving information about leaks to Japan’s nuclear regulator.

The government has been under pressure to intervene, though it’s thought the announcement was timed to improve Japan’s image as a potential host country for the 2020 Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee chooses between Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid as the host of the 2020 this weekend.

“Instead of leaving this up to TEPCO, the government will step forward and take charge,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “The world is watching if we can properly handle the contaminated water but also the entire decommissioning of the plant.”

The everyday running of the clean-up operation will be left to TEPCO but the government will support a number of high-tech interventions.

Central to their plan is using refrigerant pumped into underground pipes to freeze the ground beneath the damaged reactors. The hope is this will prevent cooling water leaking from the reactor to mix with groundwater beneath.

“It’s a proven technology and the Japanese are highly experienced at it,” said John Belton of Nottingham-based British Drilling and Freezing. “I imagine the main problem there will be getting the work done in such a hazardous environment.”