Rat may have caused outage at Fukushima atomic plant

The body of a dead rat that may have caused the short-circuit of a switchboard at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in the town of Okuma, March 20, 2013.

TOKYO - A rat may have caused a power cut that knocked out cooling systems at Japan's tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, the operator said Thursday, an episode that highlighted the jerry-rigged nature of the fix.

Equipment keeping spent nuclear fuel at a safe temperature in four different pools was out for up to 29 hours from Monday, with Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitting its recovery work was sometimes less than perfect.

The incident was a reminder of the precarious state of the plant two years after the tsunami, which sparked meltdowns in three reactors, spewing radiation over land and sea and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.

"We suspect a small animal may have caused a short-circuit in a switchboard" leading to the outage and disabling cooling systems for used fuel pools, a spokesman for TEPCO 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," he said.

"In our investigation we will concentrate on getting assurances that it was definitely this animal that caused the short-circuit."

A photograph TEPCO released showed a creature that appeared to be a rat, with a body around 15 centimetres (six inches) long.

The switchboard was a temporary one on the back of a vehicle, which was due to be replaced by a permanent one, TEPCO said, without specifying a timeframe.

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