The Japanese government announced Tuesday it is funding a costly, untested subterranean ice wall in a desperate step to stop leaks of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant after repeated failures by the plant's operator.
Public funding is part of several measures the government adopted Tuesday. Most had already been announced but they are widely seen as a safety appeal before the International Olympic Committee votes on which city will host the 2020 Olympics. Tokyo is a front-runner.
"Instead of leaving this up to TEPCO [Tokyo Electric Power Company], the government will step forward and take charge," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after adopting the outline. "The world is watching if we can properly handle the contaminated water but also the entire decommissioning of the plant."
The government plans to spend an estimated $470 million US through the end of 2014 on two projects — the ice wall and upgraded water treatment units that is supposed to remove all radioactive elements but tritium — according to energy agency official Tatsuya Shinkawa.
The government is not paying for urgently needed water tanks and other equipment that TEPCO is using to stop leaks.
The ice wall would freeze the ground to a depth of up to 30 metres through a system of thin pipes carrying a coolant as cold as minus -40 C. It would thus block contaminated water from escaping the facility's immediate surroundings, as well as keep underground water from entering the reactor and turbine buildings, where most contaminated radioactive water has collected.
The project, which TEPCO and the government proposed in May, is set for completion by March 2015.