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Japan considers mile-long ice wall to stop radiation leaks

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Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant (Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)
Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant (Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, Japan has struggled to stem the flow of radioactive material from the site. As Bloomberg reports, a new idea would see pipes installed around the failed plant, through which coolant would be pushed from on-site refrigeration units. The pipes would be installed between 20 and 40 meters (66 and 132 feet) below the ground, turning a mile-long stretch of earth into a frozen wall. The Japanese government wants to keep the ground frozen for six years, starting in July 2015.

We've been freezing the ground for 150 years

The idea isn't new: the concept of freezing soil was first used in the 1860s to "shore up" coal mines, and more recently ice walls have been used to support the building of subway tunnels. The US also experimented with the idea that frozen earth could protect against nuclear radiation at a laboratory that produced plutonium for atomic weapons. Tokyo Electric Power, the company in charge of maintaining the plant, recently raised the status of the radioactive leaks at Fukushima to "emergency," a stance that's echoed by Japan's Priime Minister Shinzo Abe who now describes the leaks as an "urgent problem."

Detractors note that, for an urgent issue, a completion date of July 2015 isn't ideal, and also point to the massive amount of power needed to maintain the ice wall. Bloomberg calculates the refrigeration scheme will consume as much electricity as 3,300 Japanese homes. A construction company has been given until March 31st 2014 to assess the feasibility of the project, and no decision will be made until then.