Japanese officials desperate to contain an ever-growing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power station are looking to use artificial permafrost to stop radioactive water from leaking. The idea is to build a mile-long wall of frozen earth around Fukushima’s toxic reactor buildings to stem the groundwater contamination; the most experienced specialists in the field say the plan should work.
The Japanese firms involved appear to be taking a go-it-alone approach. Two weeks ago, a top official at Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) signaled that the utility behind the Fukushima disaster would seek international assistance with the Fukushima water contamination crisis. But experts at U.S.-based firms and national labs behind the world’s largest freeze-wall systems—and the only one proven in containing nuclear contamination—have not been contacted by either Tepco or its contractor, Japanese engineering and construction firm Kajima Corp.
One of these experts is Elizabeth Phillips, who managed the installation of a 300-foot-long, 30-foot-deep freeze wall to isolate radioactive waste at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in 1996 and 1997. While freeze walls are commonly used to hold back groundwater to facilitate excavations at construction sites and mines, this case calls for specialized expertise, she says. “You need to make sure that whoever is doing it is analyzing everything that can go wrong,” says Phillips. “You should go with someone who has done it before.”
The investigation that began this spring suggested that the oversight within the supply chain may also be more deeply compromised. A company that was supposed to test reactor parts skipped portions of the exams, doctored test data or even issued safety certificates for parts that failed its tests, according to government investigators. And this time the parts involved included more important items. Among the parts that failed the tests were cables used to send signals to activate emergency measures in an accident.
“This is not a simple negligence or mistake; this is a deliberate fabrication by those who were supposed to safeguard the reliability of parts,” said Kim Yong-soo, a professor of nuclear engineering at Hanyang University in Seoul. “It raises serious questions about the immune system of our nuclear power industry.”
Although much remains unclear with the investigations under way, experts say they know enough to pinpoint the underlying cause of the scandal: an industry that is even more highly centralized than Japan’s, with poor oversight on the relations among the major players.
A group of about 100 antinuclar protesters on Saturday blocked a road outside the front gate of the Oi nuclear plant in western Japan, ahead of the planned reactivation of a reactor there on Sunday.
The protesters, part of 650 people who took part in a rally against the reactivation, sought to block the entrance to the plant in Fukui Prefecture with more than a dozen vehicles in an attempt to prevent workers from entering the facility.
The group is set to remain at the site until Sunday night when the process of reactivating the No.3 reactor is scheduled to begin. The plant operator, Kansai Electric Co., said the protest will not affect the reactivation process.
[Antinuclear protesters block road to Oi plant ahead of restart - Kyodo News]
At the entrance of the Oiigenpatsu are 5000 people gathered outside Oi nuclear plant entrance since yesterday evening more than 5,000 people gathered from all over the country have prevented me from running again all night long yesterday.
[Oi Nuclear Plant Occupied By Protesters | SimplyInfo]
NYTimes.com: In Tokyo, Thousands Protest the Restarting of a Nuclear Power Plant