Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has announced that the “ice wall” (formally known as the “Land-Side Impermeable Wall”) under construction at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan has been critically affected by rainfall from recent typhoons that have melted parts of the ice structure, allowing new pathways for highly contaminated water to leak from the basements of the reactor buildings.
The “ice wall” is an underground wall of frozen dirt 100 feet deep and nearly a mile long designed by the utility to divert groundwater from entering the reactor buildings and mixing with the contaminated water therein. The ice wall was built by installing 100 foot-long pipes into the ground at three-foot intervals and filling them with a supercooled brine solution. The Japanese utility has had to admit that the $335 million wall of frozen soil and water is not working as designed.
TEPCO announced that contaminated water was able to escape from the reactor buildings through the gaps in the ice wall that had melted from the rainfall and likely reached the Pacific Ocean.
Tokyo Electric will attempt to repair the melted portions of the ice wall by adding additional refrigerant into the underground pipes.
TEPCO has had to repeatedly address issues with the ice wall project, including an announcement in the spring of 2016 that one of the sections had not yet fully frozen.
Experts have warned that the ice wall, being electrically powered, is just as susceptible to damage from natural disasters as the nuclear power plant itself.
“The plan to block groundwater with a frozen wall of earth is failing. They need to come up with another solution, even if they keep going forward with the plant,” said Yoshinori Kitsutaka, a professor of engineering at Tokyo Metropolitan University.