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Wild monkeys with radiation collars to help Fukushima researchers

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So far, forests near Fukushima have only been studied from the air. Now, researchers are enlisting the help of monkey assistants equipped with radiation-measuring collars.

Researchers from Fukushima University are planning to equip local, wild monkeys with special collars to help track contamination levels in places that are hard for us to reach.

The monkeys will wearing radiation-measuring collars as they go deep into forests – an area that has only been studied from the air via helicopters and not from the ground where most wildlife are.

"We would like to know how much impact (the radiation has) on the natural world, such as forest, river, underground water and ocean," says lead researcher Takayuki Takahashi of Fukushima University. "We will draw the map to show the movement of radioactivity."

This will help reveal the long term effects of radiation on animals, as well as how radiation spreads in the forest as it transfers between animals and plants.

The collars worn by the monkey assistants will be equipped with:

  1. a dosimeter, a small radiation-measuring instrument
  2. GPS tracking
  3. a device that detects the monkey’s distance from the ground as the radiation level is measured.

“As the radiation moves from the forest to the ocean, it is important to set a baseline of knowledge to see how it affects humans and animals in the long run,” Takahashi adds.

The team plans to study the mountainous region up against Minamisoma city, about 16 miles north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. As many as 14 groups of monkeys are residing in those forests.

As early as February, 2 or 3 monkeys will be tracked for a month or two, after which the collars will detach (via remote control) and the data will be picked up.

The researchers hope the study will run for at least 5 years in order to thoroughly track the effects of cesium 137, which has a half-life of 30 years. A wild boar might be fitted with a collar later too.

Via WSJ, CNN.

Image by whisperwolf via Flickr

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure