Fukushima: Radioactive Water Leaking From Containment Tanks


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Ice acts as a barrier to groundwater – potentially preventing contamination by Fukushima’s radioactive water. Image by Gamerzero

Stop Fukushima Water Leaks With Ice?

One proposed solution is to build an ice wall around the reactor complex to block out the ground water flow. This solution sounds way out there, but this technology has been around for a while and could be a reasonable solution.

Freezing the area around the Fukushima reactor site isn’t so far out when you start looking at current uses for the freezing technology, such as tunnel boring and mining, and the resulting success of this technology. Here are the basics of ground-freezing:

  • Technicians sink steel pipes in the ground at chosen intervals.
  • Refrigeration units on the surface circulate a below-freezing coolant through the pipes.
  • Ice forms around the pipes, and as time goes on the ice spreads out – linking the columns.
  • If an earthquake cracks the ice, refrigerating the ground re-seals the wall. Any water trying to leak through is frozen.

The plan under consideration for the Fukushima site is to build a subterranean ice wall 90 feet deep and almost a mile long to contain the flow of contaminants.

Radionuclides Flow to Ocean from Fukushima

Two flows of water are carrying radionuclides out to the ocean from the Fukushima site. One is the groundwater flow passing through the reactor buildings picking up radioactivity on its way. The other, and far more dangerous, is the leakage from the temporary tanks holding highly radioactive core cooling water, ranked as a level 3, serious incident.

The sheer amount of ground water flow constitutes an overwhelming problem to solve when faced with so many other needed actions in the on-going clean up of the Fukushima site. Perhaps an old, yet relatively unknown technology, may hold the solution. Let’s all hope.


Madrigal, Alexis. How to Build an Ice Wall Around a Leaking Nuclear Reactor. (2013). The Atlantic. Accessed August 25, 2013.

Kiger, Patrick, Latest Radioactive Leak at Fukushima: How Is It Different? (2013). National Geographic. Accessed August 25, 2013.

Ogura, Junko, TEPCO looks for outside help to stabilize crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. (2013). CNN. Accessed August 25, 2012.

INES. The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. (2013). Accessed August 25, 2012.

McGrath, Matt. Q&A: Fukushima leak problems. (2013). BBC News. Accessed August 25, 2012.

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