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Nuclear Experts Raise Concerns Over Giant 'Ice Wall' at Fukushima

It's a risky experiment that could bring about unintended consequences, they warn.

A team from the IAEA looks at water storage tanks at Fukushima in Nov. 2013.(Photo: IAEA Imagebank)

Nuclear experts are casting doubt on Japan's plans to build a giant underground "ice wall" surrounding the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in a bid to stop dangerous radiation leaks.

The roughly $320 million ice wall would theoretically function like an underground dam to stop groundwater from seeping into the facility where it becomes contaminated with radioactivity.

One of those questioning the ice wall is Dale Klein, former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman and current head of the Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee hired by plant operator TEPCO.

"I’m not convinced that the freeze wall is the best option," he told Kyodo News. "What I’m concerned about is unintended consequences."

"Where does that water go and what are the consequences of that? I think they need more testing and more analysis," Klein said.

Toyoshi Fuketa, a commissioner with Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority voiced concerns as well, saying at a Friday meeting in Tokyo, "We need to know if a frozen wall is really effective, and more importantly, we need to know whether a frozen wall may cause any trouble."

Shortly after Japan announced the ice wall plans last year, Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear fusion expert and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, warned that nothing like this on this scale had been tried before, and called it

a risky experiment, because if the power fails, you know, just like if your — when the power goes out with your refrigerator, everything will de-freeze in — defrost in the freezer.

So, if this ice melts suddenly and it’s blocking an enormous amount of contaminated water behind it, then you have got a problem. At the same time, you know, the tanks are themselves something of a threat, if there’s another earthquake and this highly contaminated water gets into the ocean. And so they have a got a very — couple of very, very serious problems of containing the water.

Despite the ongoing crisis, plant operator TEPCO recently reported $4.3 billion in annual net profits thanks in part to a massive public bailout.

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