It involves both the Japanese media and the foreign media, both in Japanese and in English, following the usual pattern of:
Original Japanese article appears in the Japanese media;
Original Japanese article is then translated into English incorrectly;
English article freaks out the foreign readers;
English article is then translated back into Japanese;
Japanese readers freak out reading the translated Japanese article.
In this telephone game still being played out as of June 18, 2014, the original article was by NHK Japan (6/17/2014), which was correctly translated (except for the paragraph order) by NHK World into English.
The news is about the frozen water barrier, or ice plug, that TEPCO is trying to form in the trench from the Reactor 2 turbine building to the plant harbor near the water intake for the reactors. The trench contains extremely contaminated water that has been sitting there since April 2011 when a worker found it pouring from the crack into the open culvert in the plant harbor. The dosimeter went overscale at 1,000 millisievert/hour over the water.
It is NOT about the frozen soil impermeable wall that TEPCO/Kajima have started constructing around the reactor/turbine buildings.
From NHK World (6/16/2014 UTC; emphasis is mine):
TEPCO finds water in tunnels not yet frozen
Workers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant say their effort to freeze radioactive water in underground tunnels hasn't gone as planned.
In April, they began pouring chemical solutions into tunnels at the No.2 reactor. They hoped to freeze the water to stop it flowing out to the sea.
But tests show the water remains above freezing temperature.
Operator Tokyo Electric Power Company believes objects in the tunnels are preventing the coolant from spreading evenly. They also said running wastewater is slowing the process.
They say they are planning to find ways to control the water currents and add pipes to pour in more coolant.
They say they may not be able to complete the frozen barrier by the end of the month, and dry up the tunnel next month, as scheduled.
They are trying the same process in a tunnel around the No.3 reactor. About 11,000 tons of wastewater is believed to be in tunnels at the two reactors.
TEPCO hopes to remove wastewater from tunnels around all reactors in fiscal 2014.
The utility also has to deal with groundwater flowing into the plant from nearby hillsides and mixing with contaminated materials. Workers have been creating a 1.5-kilometer underground wall of frozen soil surrounding all four damaged reactors.
The problem lies, I think, in the paragraph order in the original Japanese news article by NHK. The bit about the frozen soil wall, which is placed at the end of the news piece in the English NHK article above, is in the middle of the news in the Japanese NHK news.
So, the focus of the writers who wrote up the articles on the topic based on the NHK Japan's Japanese report may have been diverted away from the ice plug by freezing the trench water to the different topic of the frozen soil wall to stop groundwater. Or the writers simply did not follow enough on the on-going work on the plant.
(Of all people) Japan's English-language paper Japan Times wrote an article (6/18/2014) supposedly quoting AFP, Jiji and Reuters and confusing the ice plug for trench water with the frozen soil wall for groundwater. The writer clearly does not understand what "trench" TEPCO was talking about:
[My comments in square brackets in italic]
Tepco’s ice wall runs into glitch at Fukushima No. 1
Tokyo Electric Power Co. says the refrigerated ice wall being built to slow the movement of water beneath damaged reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant isn’t working as expected. [No, TEPCO didn't say that.]
Tepco said the project, which remains in its early stages, is experiencing a problem with an inner ice wall designed to contain highly radioactive water that is draining from the basements of the wrecked reactors.
“We have yet to form an ice plug because we can’t get the temperature low enough to freeze the water,” a Tepco spokesman said Tuesday.
Trenches are being dug for a huge network of pipes under the plant that will have refrigerant pumped through them. If successful, it would freeze the soil and form a physical barrier, significantly slowing the rate at which uncontaminated groundwater flows into the reactor basements and becomes contaminated. [Japan Times is talking about frozen soil wall, not the ice plug that TEPCO's spokesman was talking about.]
“We are behind schedule, but have already taken additional measures, including putting in more pipes, so that we can remove contaminated water from the trench starting next month,” a spokesman said.
The coolant used in the operation is an aqueous solution of calcium chloride, which is cooled to minus 30 degrees. The ice wall employs the same technology as the trench project and involves the same contractor, Kajima Corp.
The idea of freezing a section of the ground was proposed last year. Engineers have used the technique to build tunnels near watercourses. But scientists point out it has never been used on such a large scale, or for the length of time Tepco is proposing.
Coping with the huge amount of water at the plant is proving to be a major challenge for Tepco, as it tries to clean up the mess after the worst nuclear disaster in a generation.
As well as having to collect vast quantities of water used to cool the melted down reactors, Tepco has been pumping up and storing water that drains down from inland mountains to the sea.
Full decommissioning of the plant is expected to take several decades. An exclusion zone remains in place, and experts warn that some former residential areas may have to be abandoned as settlements because of persistently high levels of radiation.
Foreign media outlets that also have the Japanese web presence then wrote articles in Japanese, saying "NHK said frozen soil wall is not working." Voice of Russia's Japanese article (6/17/2014) and Huffington Post Japan's article are two such examples. There are English sites and blogs that quoted the erroneous Japan Times article.
After three-plus years of confused information and confused information dissemination regarding the Fukushima nuclear accident, an increasing number of people seem to be resorting to the "devil's proof" - can you prove that the news (as per Japan Times and others) is 100% wrong?
In this case in fact it is 100% wrong, as the news is not about the frozen soil wall but about the extremely contaminated trench water which is apparently running, or flowing, and which remains above freezing temperature.
That's much scarier to me than the groundwater (target of the frozen soil wall), as it means this extremely contaminated trench water may not be standing water but may be constantly flowing and constantly leaking, possibly into the surrounding soil and into the plant harbor. I haven't read anyone paying attention to that possibility. (Certainly not NHK.)
But no matter. An increasing number of people have also started to speak like Hillary Clinton (over Benghazi): What difference does it make?
Apparently, confusion in reporting in English is such that TEPCO issued an English press release (6/18/2014) to try to set the record straight. I think it will likely fall on deaf ears, but here it is (emphasis is mine):
Fukushima - June 18, 2014, TEPCO has started freezing the water at intersections of turbine buildings inside the trenches (tunnel) from April 28, 2014, which contain contaminated water at Fukushima Daiichi NPS. This operation is one of the first steps to remove contaminated water from the trenches which is a major mile stone for TEPCO's decommissioning at Fukushima Daiichi NPS.
On June 16, TEPCO has announced some difficulties that were encountered with an effort to freeze standing water inside the tunnel which TEPCO has been implemented countermeasures since early June. However, this has nothing to do with the "ice wall (Land-side impermeable wall with frozen soil)" which is constructed by freezing the soil surrounding pipes that carry circulating refrigerant. Unfortunately, there are some miss understandings as relating to the ice wall that is being built around the perimeter of the four reactor units for the purpose of blocking groundwater.
This freezing the standing water inside the trenches are entirely different from the ice wall, which the technology is used to freeze soil, creating a frozen wall - not really an "ice wall" but in fact a wall of frozen soil - was tested and demonstrated to be effective before construction on the wall began in May. Instead of freezing the soil, TEPCO has to freeze standing water inside the trenches.
The difficulties encountered in freezing the contaminated water does not in any way represent a "setback" in development of the "ice wall," for which construction is proceeding as planned.
TEPCO will continue the decommissioning operation and contaminated water management safely and diligently with a support and the knowledge gain from our domestic and other international partners.