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Japan May Create Frozen Ground Barrier to Stop Radioactive Leak in Fukushima

August 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: A badly damaged nuclear plant in Japan loomed over budget talks today in Tokyo. Officials are working on ways to stop contaminated runoff at the site from poisoning the surrounding sea.

The radioactive water is escaping from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean at a rate of 300 tons a day. That’s enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than a week. And it began soon after the earthquake and tsunami shattered the plant on March 11, 2011.

Three of the nuclear reactors went into meltdown. None of that was known until TEPCO, the plant’s commercial operator, discovered radiation spikes in water samples last May and began creating a chemical barrier underground. The company made the problem public in late July. That spurred the Japanese government to act.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now pledging to become more involved.

PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE, Japan (through interpreter): As a nation, we ourselves will take firm measures against the issue, and will not leave it entirely in the hands of TEPCO.

JEFFREY BROWN: The measures could include an effort to build a new barrier by freezing the ground so the water can’t get out.

CHIEF CABINET SECRETRY YOSHIHIDE SUGA, Japan (through interpreter): Building such a large-scale water barrier by freezing the ground is unprecedented anywhere in the world. We believe it is necessary that the country steps forward in supporting its construction.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, a University of Tokyo research team has found multiple radioactive hot spots on the sea bottom, near the Fukushima plant.

BLAIR THORNTON, University of Tokyo (through interpreter): We have detected over 20 spots around with levels of radiation five to 10 times higher than the surrounding areas, with diameters ranging from tens to hundreds of meters.

JEFFREY BROWN: The news dealt a further blow to the region’s already struggling fishing industry.

MAN (through interpreter): Just when I thought people had started to want to eat fish again, this news is going to hit our reputation as fishermen once more. It’s once again just typical TEPCO.

JEFFREY BROWN: For now, TEPCO is going ahead with its planned 40-year, $11 billion cleanup of the plant. For its part, the government could end up spending $400 million in the effort.