TEPCO also plans, by 2015, to freeze the ground around the entire reactor complex, creating a subterranean ring of permafrost with a circumference of 1.4 kilometers (0.9 miles) to prevent groundwater near the surface from seeping into the ruined complex and becoming contaminated, as it currently does. This technology has been used in mining, but has never been applied on this scale or as a long-term measure meant to last for years. "We can't assume that it will work," Maqua says. Another German engineer working in the industry criticizes the plan, saying that this sort of permafrost ring will fail to work as a barrier to water if it is not also sealed from below.
As for the contents of the 1,000 radioactive storage tanks, there is only one long-term solution -- the contaminated water must be cleaned, and then emptied into the ocean. It is possible to a large extent to filter out the cesium and strontium. The tritium, although somewhat less of a concern, can't be filtered out. Little by little, the Japanese public is being prepared for the coming release of this water -- much to the horror of fishermen.
TEPCO recently completed a large filtration facility, but even that did little to increase confidence in the company's crisis management abilities -- hardly had the facility gone into operation before it was off-line again, having begun to rust and spring leaks.
Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee chair Dale Klein will travel to Japan again this week to meet with TEPCO's managers, who have not rejected Klein's help, despite his previous harsh comments. But it's unlikely they will be particularly happy with what Klein has to say to them this time either -- he says Japan should form a new company to apply knowledge from international experts to the cleanup efforts. TEPCO, he believes, is simply not capable of handling the extremely difficult water issue, a problem that, he says, they will be dealing with "for the next decade."
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein