Fukushima poses a problem now and will pose a problem a generation from now. But, an interesting ground engineering project may alleviate the issue for future generations.
Back up to spring 2011. An earthquake and tsunami left swaths of Japan devastated. It quickly became apparent that the costs in life and infrastructure made up the first swing of a one-two punch. The reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant overheated after floodwaters caused failure in backup generators. Explosions followed. Radiation continues to spew from the site two years later. In fact, recent reports suggest a problem of enormous scope and complexity—much of it now related to management of tainted water at the site.
Groundwater flows through the site, picks up radiation and flows on to the Pacific Ocean at a rate of about 300 tons per day.
Enter the drillers. Tepco, the utility that runs the site, has contracted Kajima Corp. to contain that water. The plan: Freeze the earth around several of the reactors to stem movement of radiation-contaminated water into groundwater and, eventually, the ocean.
The resulting wall of frozen earth, by some estimates, will stretch about 4,600 feet and reach a depth of 65 feet. The huge project will involve hundreds of boreholes, and require thousands of horsepower moving coolant to maintain. Projected costs range from $300-$400 million (USD). Here’s a good primer on how this all works.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe publicly called the problem an "urgent issue." Given the famous deference and humility of the Japanese, the fact that Abe made this statement raises alarms to Western ears. Statements from Japan finally match the assessments of many nuclear experts in the international community.
The fact that he pledged his government's intervention in Tepco's cleanup efforts offers a measure of comfort, though, as does the fact that drillers will step in as part of the solution.
If I see updates on their efforts, I'll let you know. Until then, stay safe out there drillers.