Wild monkeys fitted with collars containing detectors and GPS transmitters will help researchers at Fukushima University measure radiation in the forests surrounding a nuclear power plant crippled last March by a powerful earthquake and tsunami.
The monkeys will wear the collars for a month and they will be remotely detached, says a team of scientists led by Professor Takayuki Takahashi.
"We decided to use monkeys for this project because the territory they cover is very well known to us," Professor Takahashi told the Telegraph of London. "It's the first time such an experiment has been carried out with monkeys."
The collars will contain a dosimeter, which measures radiation levels, as well as an altimeter to measure height above the ground, and a GPS tracking device, Takahashi said, according to a report in Life's Little Mysteries. As soon as February, the collars will be fitted on as many as three wild monkeys living in a forest in the Fukushima Prefecture.
Kyodo News via AP
Members of Japan's Self-Defense Force scrape the surface of a lawn while working on a decontamination operation around Iitate town hall in Fukushima prefecture on Dec. 7.
Analyzing the data collected by the collars will reveal the impact of radioactive material that spewed into the environment since the March 11 magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami knocked out the cooling system at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, leading to the meltdowns of three of its nuclear reactors.
Scientists have relied on air samples, mostly taken by helicopter above the Fukushima forests.
The monkeys will allow scientists to discover radiation levels from the forest floor to the treetops.
The project will launch in Minamisoma, around 16 miles north of the power plant.
As many as 14 groups of monkeys are believed to reside in the mountains forests to the west of Minamisoma city, which is where the study will focus.
In April, scientists estimated that the total amount of radioactivity released was approximately one-tenth the amount released during the Chernobyl disaster. In the months since, scientists have continued to monitor radiation levels from the air, but they say using monkeys as "research assistants" will clarify the conditions on the ground.
"We would like to know how much impact (the radiation has) on the natural world, such as forest, river, underground water and ocean," Takahashi told reporters. "We will draw the map to show the movement of radioactivity."
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