People and the media in Japan would rather talk about something else, like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as they look past the still unfolding nuclear crisis in Fukushima.
Sure, I agree. It's about time that the government finally takes charge of the plant's cleanup, instead of leaving it up to the clueless suits at Tepco. At this stage, Tepco has no credibility in Japan. Over and over again, company has shown no ability to get the plant fully under control. Tepco has no track record of releasing information in a timely manner. After the leaks of contaminated water into the ocean were discovered in July, Tepco belatedly announced in August that 300 tons of water laced with radioactive strontium had drained from a faulty tank.
Just because the government is taking over the cleanup job doesn't mean the government is more capable of managing this complex crisis. Among the worries is a plan to build a so-called "ice wall," a subterranean wall of ground frozen by liquid coolant.
So far, I've heard no skeptics in Japan questioning the science and long-term viability of the technology behind the proposed ice wall -- especially on NHK, Japan's public broadcaster.
To hear the argument against it, I had to turn to Tuesday's edition of the PBS Newshour, whose link my former colleague and science writer George Leopold sent via e-mail.
In the program, Arjun Makhijani, an engineer specializing in nuclear fusion and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, called the proposed ice wall scheme "a risky experiment."
Makhijani explained that the Japanese "hope to freeze the soil, basically, with a giant freezing machine, just like your freezer at home, [to] put cooling coils in the soil, lots and lots of them." He pointed out that this scheme "takes an enormous amount of electricity." That is just what the Fujushima nuclear plant can't do.
The biggest worry is potential power failures. Makhijani said:
…if the power fails, you know, just like if your -- when the power goes out with your refrigerator, everything will de-freeze in -- defrost in the freezer.
Even though ice wall technology had been used frequently to stabilize the ground in big construction projects, like the Big Dig highway project in Boston, The New York Times pointed out that some critics are dubious.
They argue that it's a costly technology "that would be vulnerable at the blackout-prone plant because it relies on electricity the way a freezer does, and even more so because it has never been tried on the vast scale that Japan is envisioning and was always considered a temporary measure, while at Fukushima it would have to endure possibly for decades."
This may not sound patriotic. But I almost hope the international community will turn its back on Japan, denying it the 2020 Olympics. Abe's claim that Fukushima will be resolved before 2020 is best interpreted as wishful thinking aimed at winning the next election. (Abe's party is known as a pro-nuclear party, which just won a landslide election.)
At worst, the Japanese prime minister's rosy outlook is an intentionally deceptive and misleading claim, especially cruel to the people in Fukushima who still hang on to their dream of returning to their nuked homes.
Reality bite: Today, 27 years after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl -- besides Fukushima, the only other Level 7 nuke accident in history -- an area 20 miles around the sealed Chernobyl plant remains a radioactive No Man's Land.