FUKUSHIMA -Wild Japanese monkeys wearing special collars fitted with dosimeters and Global Positioning System devices will be used to measure radiation levels in the mountain forests of Fukushima Prefecture in an experiment due to start this month.
A group of researchers at Fukushima University plans to start the experiment to determine the dispersal of radiation due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and support decontamination work.
Led by Prof. Takayuki Takahashi, who is also the university's vice president, the group will attach the collars to monkeys as early as this month.
Radiation levels on mountains are currently measured by plane from the air, but using monkeys should make it possible to measure levels deep in mountainous areas that planes struggle to cover.
Takahashi, an expert in robot engineering, came up with the idea after noticing the monkeys' habit of forming groups and moving around in a specific territory. The researchers plan to capture female monkeys, which are believed to rarely stray from their groups, and attach the 350-gram collars.
As the dosimeters are designed to come off after receiving of a signal, the researchers will collect them two weeks later and analyze the data.
The group plans to target monkeys in southern Minami-Soma in the prefecture, an area that was inside the no-entry zone around the crippled nuclear plant until mid-April. Relatively high radiation levels have been recorded in the area.
The researchers plan to gradually increase the number of monkeys wearing dosimeters, with the aim of creating a radiation level map covering an extensive area.
"It's difficult to accurately gauge how much radioactive cesium has contaminated mountain forests because the substance is easily moved by rainwater and by other natural conditions," Takahashi said.
"I hope the data on radiation distribution also helps protect wild animals in the area."