Ice wall only defence halting Fukushima’s radioactive water seeping across world

Nine years ago the world watched in horror as a massive underwater earthquake unleashed devastation on the coastal regions of Japan.

Measuring at least 9 on the richter scale, the earthquake was the worst ever experienced in Japan and the fourth worst the world had seen since records began.

It triggered a massive tsuami that battered Japan's coast with 130 foot waves, which travelled six miles inland and reached horrifying speeds of 435mph.

With less than 10 minutes warning before the devastating tsuami hit, people just minutes to grab what they could and flee for their lives.

Thousands died. The official death toll stands at more than 15,000.

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The earthquake was so powerful it moved Japan's main island of Honshu eight feet east and even shifted the earth on its access by up to 10 inches.

Tens of thousands of buildings collapsed and anything in the tsunami's path was decimated.

But as the country surveyed the horror that had unfolded on March 11, 2011, an even greater evil was about to hit.

The earth had triggered a shutdown of the active reactors at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant in the north east of Japan.

This caused the electricity supply to fail and the emergency generators to kick in as a fail safe.

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One of the crucial actions of the generators was to power the pumps that were ciruclating coolant through the cores of the reactors, which was critical to remove the heat, even after nuclear fission has stopped.

However, the huge tsunami swamped the nuclear power plant's seawall and flooded the lower floors around several of the reactor buildings.

Basements filled with seawater, which knocked out the emergency generators and shut off the power.

The loss of the cooling agent to the core of the reactors led to three catastrophic nuclear meltdowns and three hydrogen explosions.

In the days that followed, and as radiation continued to pour into the atmosphere, the Japanese government had to create an ever growing exclusion zone around the nuclear power plane.

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Around 154,000 people had to flee their homes and huge amounts of water contaminated with radioactive isotopes flooded into the Pacific Ocean.

Almost immediately, the clean-up and decommissioning of the crippled nuclear plant began.

An army of robots was sent into the site to remove debris, make safe the melted reactors and build a impenetrable wall around the damaged site.

But there was still one critical problem – radioactive water was still leaking out of the plant underground, mingling with fresh water and heading out to sea to seep around the world.

Owners at Fukushima came up with a truly innovative solution – a giant, underground ice wall.

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It freezes the ground solid and prevents the radioactive water flowing into the sea.

Only a few feet of the giant pipes can now been seen above ground but the frozen wall reaches 100 feet underground.

The massive wall encircles reactors one to four and cost a huge £235million to build.

To keep the contaminated water away from the fresh water outside the plant, the wall needs to remain minus 30C at all times.

But while the wall was being constructed 1.1million tonnes of contaminated water leaked out of the ruined reactors, which now all has to be safely stored so it cannot damage the surrounding supply.

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It has been estimated it will take up to 40 years decontaminate the affected areas and decommission the plant.

Those who were living close to Fukushima are still dealing with aftermath of that terrible day.

More than a third of children were found to have abnormalities with their thyroid glands, while 40 of them developed thyroid cancer.

But last year, the first evacuees began to move back to Fukushima.

Just a few hundred people have so far decided to return to their former homes after it was deemed safe to do so.

However, much of the surrounding area still have dangerously high levels of radiation, not least because it contains thousands of tonnes of contaminated soil.

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