By Matt Smith | CNN
Japan’s prime minister Thursday ordered his government to find "multiple, speedy and sure" ways to stop the spread of radioactive groundwater around the meltdown-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, including freezing the surrounding ground.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s directive comes two weeks after the Tokyo Electric Power Company admitted that contaminated water was leaching into the Pacific Ocean from the plant, the site of the worst nuclear accident in a quarter-century.
"This is not an issue where we can let TEPCO take complete responsibility," Abe said at a meeting at the government’s nuclear disaster response headquarters. "We have to deal with this at a national level."
Abe said he has told Japan’s Ministry of Trade and Industry to "provide multiple, speedy and sure solutions to this issue."
TEPCO has proposed setting up a subterranean barrier around the plant by freezing the ground around it, preventing groundwater from leaking into the damaged plant and carrying radioactive particles with it as it seeps out.
"The public has a strong concern over the contaminated water problem, and this is an urgent issue to solve," Abe said. "We will not leave it only to TEPCO, but will lay out firm measures."
That will mean a still-undetermined amount of direct government spending to aid the ailing utility, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, told reporters. Building a frozen wall around the plant is "unprecedented," he said.
"To build such a wall, the government should take the lead to promote this kind of project," Suga said. "We have to provide the support to do so."
The plan to freeze the ground presents significant technical challenges. It could involve plunging thousands of tubes carrying a powerful coolant liquid deep into the ground surrounding the stricken reactor buildings.
The technology has been used before in the construction of tunnels, but never on the massive scale that the Fukushima plant would require.
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