Shit is fucked up at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which melted down in the wake of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The plant recently leaked 300 tons - 72,000 gallons - of highly radioactive water into the Pacific. This has been happening for a while, but TEPCO - the Japanese power company - had been denying it. In other words, start reconsidering buying any fish that lived in the Pacific Ocean. Or maybe even swimming in it.
Gotta love nuclear power. It's so safe! To maintain that high safety, something has to be done to stop more irradiated water from leaking into the ocean. The latest plan: an ice wall.
You may know The Wall from Game of Thrones, a 700 foot tall, 300 mile long monstrosity made of ice and stone that divides the Seven Kingdoms from the wastelands to the north. The Fukushima ice wall would be nothing like this... because it would be underground.
[The plan] calls for engineers to sink an array of vertical pipes into the ground around the buildings housing reactors 1 through 4. According to experts in ground-freezing technology, several large refrigerator units—the sort used to cool hockey arenas—would chill coolant that would circulate through the pipes, gradually lowering the temperature of the wet soil around them to subzero temperatures. In about two months, the soil would solidify and form a frozen barrier that would block water from flowing into the plant, and prevent already contaminated water inside it from reaching the ocean.
This isn't as science fictiony as it sounds. Frozen barriers have been used in mining for years. This wouldn't even be the biggest such barrier created; that would be one built around a gold mine, but which was never actually deployed. It would be the first to encase a nuclear power plant. Previous tests have shown that frozen material is way less permeable than stuff like clay and chemically hardened soil. And we've seen that freezing helps lower radioactive contamination; a smaller, but similar system was used at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to keep contaminants out of a nearby creek.
But how long will the ice wall hold up? National Geographic says that ice walls have been shown to last 30 to 40 years, which I guess gives the Japanese time to come up with a more permanent solution. In the meantime it won't be cheap - the amount of power used to cool the ice would be enough to power over 3000 homes. And so we're right back with what got us in this position in the first place: an unending thirst for power, at whatever cost.