Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Prediction: The Ice Wall Won't Work.

Today several years after announcing the wonderful concept of freezing the soil around the core-breached reactors at Fukushima, "officials" announce they are going to actually start freezing soil today.  The point to which is - it turns out the natural groundwater in the area flows (underground) through serious contamination, and then both comes up into the broken cellars of the nuclear plant, and oh, incidentally, flows right out into the sea.  (They know that, but the "official" announcement that contamination has been leaking into the sea constantly is probably 2 years away.)

Here is link and text; and my detailed prediction below it:

"TEPCO to start freezing wall at Fukushima plant

"The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has gained approval from the regulator to start freezing soil around its reactors. Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO plans to create an ice wall that will reduce the amount of groundwater flowing into the 4 reactor buildings and thereby limit the buildup of radioactive water.

"The utility got the go-ahead on Wednesday from the Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA, to begin the underground freezing. It is expected to start the work as early as Thursday. The volume of contaminated water at the plant is increasing due to inflowing groundwater.

"Once the freezing process is complete, together with other measures, the daily accumulation of underground water is expected to fall from 400 tons to about 50 tons. The wall is expected to start restricting the inflow of groundwater about 45 days after the freezing starts.

"TEPCO finished building the underground freezing systems last month, after 2 years of work.

"But the regulator did not immediately give the greenlight to its freezing plans. It was concerned the wall could lower the groundwater level too much and cause radioactive water pooled in the reactor buildings to leak out.

"TEPCO submitted a revised plan to do the freezing work in stages. Under the new plan, it will first freeze soil at the downstream side of the buildings to prevent water leaking there.

"NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said the operation will be a major challenge. He said it is important to carefully monitor the freezing process with adequate data."


My prediction; based not on rancor or ill wishes but on Physics, Chemistry, and Hydrology: the ice wall will not work.  Will never work, can not ever be made to work, and is quite likely to cause new and possibly worse problems with contaminated water at the site.

"Why" it won't work requires long discussion, which perhaps we will do after it is announced that it isn't working; my guess will that announcement will happen within the next two months.  Hard to cover up 200 tons of new water every day.

So why did they build it, if common science says it can't work?  Several reasons, none good- A) they don't know how to do anything that might be effective, B) They have to appear to be doing something, and C) There is a huge amount of money to be made, from public funds, building something so wacky.  When it fails, they'll just wring their hands and walk away- the executives with fat bank accounts, and the public reputation of saints struggling with evil.


Jason and Michelle said...

I dot have a degree in chemistry or physics. I too fail to see how this will stop the water.

shadowfoot said...

I realize there must be quite a bit of water flowing into the area, but if they're going to spend lots of money wouldn't it make more sense to figure out a way to divert the underground river? Like maybe dig a huge trench (new riverbed, really) that goes in a different direction, then connect it to the river? It would be a ridiculously huge project but building those freezing units must have been a huge project as well.

Greenpa said...

Shadow- they've already tried a couple things basically like that; including one where they tried to pump groundwater up before it reached the reactor, the idea being that water would be clean and could be just dumped right into the ocean, while decreasing the water flow into problem areas.

It's hard to decipher what went on, goes on, and actually happened- when the major intent of press releases is to make everything look fine. In this case- it turned out the water they were pumping up - was already too radioactive to release without treatment- and local fishermen were watching it all very closely. And a bunch of the contamination is tritium - for which no one on this planet has found any economical ways to remove it from water like this. No filters or other processes can do it. So they wound up with more water they had to store; not less, and more that was ultimately too contaminated even by their own relaxed standards to dump in the ocean... so- the entire project just quietly disappeared from public view or discussion.

They've built physical walls- that made it worse, and a couple other things- all pretty much on the "we have to look like we're doing something" level. The plain fact is, the technologies to deal effectively with a melted reactor core- do not exist, anywhere. But good Public Relations efforts - can keep the panic down a bit.

Aimee said...

Would you be worried if you lived on the northwest coast of the US? How worried? Would you be like, "don't eat bottom-fish" worried, or more like "sell the house before the market drops off there face of the earth" worried?

Steve Carrow said...

Aw, come on, tell us why you don't think the ice walls will work. Using freezing to isolate foundation work from groundwater or high water tables is a well known construction technique. I know nothing of the geology and groundwater situation there, but if done as per successful past experience, why wouldn't it work?

Greenpa said...

Aimee - I am a believer in physics and geology. And statistics. Sea level rise is most certainly going to happen, though the immediate effect on house prices is not clear to me- real estate cons are a huge source of wealth, predictably. In terms of radioactivity from Fukushima affecting your fish, and then your health- probabilities there are very tiny; the fact that we can detect it does not mean it will have measurable health ramifications. I would not live in California, for anything. Visit, yes I do, small windows of time are not much problem. Long windows- bad things. The NW - I think is a bit less risky at the moment; but- that's a guess; human ability to truly gauge earthquake hazard is very poor.

Steve- yes, freezing soil for construction is an understood technique - but it's entirely different from trying to immobilize an aquifer. That's never been attempted, I think. In the construction practices, water is allowed to move through the set up, specifically so pressure will NOT build.

Water moving through soil/rock microstructure is as slippery as hydrogen molecules to try to contain. And water pressure is an exceptionally powerful force, since water is incompressible; force is transmitted completely. So- envision - water is freezing in the soil, restricting established flow paths. Pressure builds. Water will find (is finding now) paths not yet blocked; and start to flow faster there. More pressure- faster flow, greater force. Various kinds of erosion, cutting, changes in solubility of rock/soil minerals will happen, and the existing pathways will grow- increasing flow. High flow- harder to freeze, since new heat is constantly supplied- Now; put an entire aquifer, rain on the mountains, in back of that. It will go through; or around, and begin physical erosion and/or soil liquefaction-

That's only one set of reasons. Basically there are no "possible" or "probable" effects that might operate to make it work- and all known ones will operate to make it increasingly improbable, and will likely join forces down the unknown road to make it really, really improbable. My prediction - it won't work. Resources and time will be entirely wasted, and should be spent on finding some pathway with a reasonable chance of success.

Greenpa said...

Oh, and. Could I be wrong? I certainly could. Have I been wrong before? I certainly have.

I stick with this prediction, though. And whichever way it turns out- I will have learned something. :-)

Steve Carrow said...

If there is elevation change in the area in question, and a flow gradient, then yes, the freeze method would be much more likely to fail for the reasons you mention.

shadowfoot said...

*sigh* Thanks for the responses, both on the water diversion and the mention to Aimee about fish. I've been thinking of buying tuna again since things seem to be relatively safe in that regard (of course, there are other things besides radiation to think about). I'll be getting more American Tuna - they fish up the west coast, around Alaska-ish, where the tuna are hanging out when they're younger.

I have quite a bit of family in CA but nothing I can do about that.

Lynx said...

I am wondering, do you have any thoughts or ideas about what CAN be done to fix/take care of the radiation problem in Japan? Things that will actually work.