Shock the monkey! Japan uses primates as radiation detectors

Primates inhabiting forests near Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant will be fitted with radiation meters and GPS transmitters as Japanese scientists measure fallout from a nuclear accident in March when a tsunami caused extensive damage to the plant, according to the Daily Mail.

Professor Takayuki Takahashi and a team of scientists from Fukushima University will use almost a thousand monkeys to track radiation emissions and ascertain how far they have spread. Previously, helicopters fitted with testing devices were used to monitor radiation but Takahashi explained that whilst aerial monitoring can cover large areas, it can’t test particular movements on the ground. Telling ABC News, “The monkeys can help us get more accurate readings in areas that aren’t so accessible. We’ll get a better idea of how radiation is spread by rain, by plants, by rivers in the forest.” The scientists also intend to carry out similar tests using animals in the wild.

The Daily Mail reports that the city of Minamisoma, where half the population was evacuated over radiation concerns, will also partner with the project. A third of the city lies within the obligatory 12 mile exclusion zone set to safeguard residents against the emissions.

A recent survey shows that hundreds of people from the Fukushima area were exposed to radiation beyond the recommended levels at the time of the nuclear accident, though an official survey of 1,589 local residents revealed that none were subjected to radiation beyond the tolerated amount for such emergencies, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The project, commencing in spring, will use a variety of monkeys native to Minamisoma to obtain a wide range of readings from ground level to the tree tops. The GPS transmitters can be removed by remote control but researchers plan to leave them attached to the monkeys for decades to come.

Jude Freeman writes from London.

 

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