Rat Cuts Power at Ailing Fukushima Plant

Thursday, March 21, 2013 @ 02:03 PM gHale

If it wasn’t so serious, it might be amusing, but a rat may be the culprit behind the huge power failure that knocked out cooling systems at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

Investigations into the rodent’s role in the emergency are ongoing. A spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said officials found a 6-inch rat dead on Wednesday near a switchboard.

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While TEPCO had suspicions there was a rat linked to the power failure, it said they would have to undergo more investigations.

The result of the problem was the power failure prevented the operation of cooling equipment serving four pools where they store spent fuel, prompting fears if they could not get the power back quick enough the temperature could rise to a critical meltdown level.

“We suspect a small animal may have caused a short circuit in a switchboard” the spokesman said. “We cannot be sure exactly what it was, but can say what we saw at the scene was the body of a dead animal below the switchboard.”

“In our investigation we will concentrate on getting assurances that it was definitely this animal that caused the short circuit,” the spokesman said.

The switchboard location was in the back of a truck parked outside the facility, which was a temporary arrangement that TEPCO said it had been planning to fix.

Cooling systems serving four storage pools at the plant went offline Monday but came back early Wednesday morning. Used nuclear fuel can become dangerous when its temperature rises to a point at which a self-sustaining critical reaction begins, leading to a meltdown.

Nine facilities ended up affected by the power cut, although TEPCO said the cooling of the reactors themselves was never in jeopardy. Company officials say there has been no major change to the level of radioactivity at nearby monitoring spots.

The meltdown of three out of six reactors at Fukushima followed an earthquake and subsequent tsunami wave in March 2011, which shut off power to cooling systems serving the reactors.

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