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Radioactive goldfish found in Ohio nuclear plant

Published time: May 16, 2013 16:28
The Perry nuclear power plant (Google maps)

The Perry nuclear power plant (Google maps)

Two radioactive goldfish were found swimming in a juice pitcher of nuclear reactor water in an underground steam tunnel at an Ohio power plant. Investigators are baffled as to how the radioactive fish remained unnoticed in the ‘secure’ facility.

Investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and officials of the plant, which is operated by FirstEnergy Corp., have been looking through surveillance tapes to try to identify who was responsible for leaving the radioactive goldfish in the tunnel on May 2. 

They believe one of the 700 employees and contractors who work at the plant smuggled the fish into the facility, Jennifer Young, spokeswoman for FirstEnergy Corp., told AP. The fishy tale has served as an embarrassment for the plant, which has already come under scrutiny for a case in which four contractors were exposed to life-threatening hard radiation in 2011. The plant has also been scutinized for a serious lack of security.

“Last year, Perry got into trouble with the NRC about weaknesses preventing unauthorized access to the plant,” David Lochbaum, a spokesman at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Plain Dealer. “Goldfish are not authorized to be inside the tunnel, yet they were there. And Perry cannot determine how they got there or who put them there.”

Officials believe the goldfish were taken through the front door and likely hidden in a plastic bag in a worker’s pocket. All workers are required to pass through security, which detects metal and bombs but not fish and water. Investigators believe the fish were left unnoticed in the tunnel for several days before scaffolding crews discovered them and filed a report.

But despite looking through surveillance tapes for more than a week, little progress has been made in identifying the perpetrator(s). 

“While we continue to look at the video for evidence, identifying folks in the video has been challenging,” Young told AP.

Both of the 1 ½-inch-long fish died shortly after their discovery, but officials at the plant claim that neglect and starvation may have been the cause – not radiation. Chemists found that the fish were admitting small amounts of radiation, but not enough to put anyone at risk, including the fish.

“They did not have exposure to enough radioactivity to hurt them,” Young told The Plain Dealer.  “It was probably due to lack of care before they got to the plant. The radiation could not have killed them.”

Lochbaum said the story might sound funny to some, but that smuggling live animals into the plant shows a serious lack of security. The story has caused some to recall an episode of the “Simpsons” in which Blinky, an orange fish, has a third eye due to his exposure to radiation.

“What might be an amusing account of misplaced goldfish today could become tomorrow’s nightmare story if someone with an axe to grind, another Timothy McVeigh type, places a bomb instead of two goldfish in Perry,” Lochbaum told The Plain Dealer, referring to the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

The fish admitted small levels of radiation, but the incident is most problematic for the plant for once again highlighting the lack of security – an issue that FirstEnergy Corp. has been scrutinized for before.