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Monday, December 5, 2016, 17:43

Fukushima reactor briefly loses cooling during inspection

By Associated Press
Fukushima reactor briefly loses cooling during inspection
In this photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), TEPCO staff react how a worker accidentally bumped on a switch of a pumping system at the melted No. 3 reactor at tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant while passing through the narrow isle of switch panels during an inspection and turned off the pumping system in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, Dec 5, 2016. (Tokyo Electric Power Co. via AP)

TOKYO — One of the melted reactors at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant had a temporary loss of cooling Monday when a worker accidentally bumped a switch while passing through a narrow isle of switch panels during an inspection and turned off the pumping system.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said cooling for the No. 3 reactor, one of the three that melted following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, was out for nearly an hour before a backup pump kicked in.

The reactor had enough water left inside and there was no temperature increase or radiation leak from the incident, TEPCO spokesman Yuichi Okamura said at a news conference.

Fukushima reactor briefly loses cooling during inspection
This photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. shows pieces of damaged plastic cover of a switch a pumping system fallen on the floor at the melted Nov. 3 reactor at tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant after a worker accidentally bumped while passing through the narrow isle of switch panels during an inspection and turned off the pumping system in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, Dec 5, 2016. (Tokyo Electric Power Co. via AP)

Even though there was no radiation leak or overheating of the core, or any injuries, the incident was a reminder that Fukushima's decommissioning work is running on a very fragile system.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said cooling for the No. 3 reactor was out for nearly an hour before a backup pump kicked in

The plant was largely running on makeshift pipes, wiring and other equipment in the first two to three years following the 2011 disasters, suffering a series of minor blackouts — including those caused by rats chewing cables — cooling stoppages and other problems.

The plant has since largely stabilized, but it remains vulnerable to unanticipated incidents as it continues to struggle with decommissioning work, which is expected to last decades.

Monday's incident occurred when the worker was passing by a dimly lit isle that was only 85 centimeters (2.8 feet) wide, flanked by tall switch panels on both sides, Okamura said. With radiation levels still high, the worker was wearing a full-face mask and hazmat suit when he lost his balance while carrying equipment. His elbow jammed into the switch, breaking off its safety cover and inadvertently turning the lever to turn off the water injection pump to the No. 3 reactor.

Fukushima reactor briefly loses cooling during inspection
This photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. shows a switch, left, of a pumping system at the melted No. 3 reactor at tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant on which a worker accidentally bumped while passing through a narrow isle of switch panels during an inspection and turned off the pumping system in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, Dec 5, 2016. (Tokyo Electric Power Co. via AP)

Okamura acknowledged the lack of space at the site and said that the plant will seek ways to eliminate human errors like one on Monday.

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