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Japanese scientists to use wild monkeys to track radiation

By Junko Ogura, CNN
December 14, 2011 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The wild monkeys will wear a collar fitted with GPS and a device to measure radiation
  • Scientists want to assess the impact of radiation leaks following the Fukushima crisis
  • An earthquake and tsunami in March led to radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi plant

Tokyo (CNN) -- Scientists in Japan are taking a novel approach to measuring the impact of radiation in a forest affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis: enlisting the help of local wild monkeys.

Takayuki Takahashi, a professor of robotic technology at Fukushima University, told CNN Wednesday his team was working on a collar fitted with a dosimeter to measure radiation levels that could be fitted to the monkeys before they are released back into the wild.

The experimental device, which will also include GPS tracking and a device to measure height, will be attached to as many as three monkeys in the forest in Minami Soma City as soon as February, he said.

The creatures are expected to wear the collar for about a month. It will then be detached by the researchers using remote control technology and collected so the data can be analyzed.

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Takahashi said the experiment would help researchers understand how radiation in the forest can affect human beings, as well as wild animals.

"We would like to know how much impact (the radiation has) on the natural world, such as forest, river, underground water and ocean," he said. "We will draw the map to show the movement of radioactivity."

He said little attention had been paid to the wild animals potentially impacted by the nuclear crisis that followed the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan on March 11 and damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

While human scientists have been monitoring radiation levels from the air, the use of monkey "assistants" will give them a clearer idea of conditions on the ground.

Adjustments have been made to the collar since an initial attempt to run the experiment in October failed when the dosimeter malfunctioned and did not provide accurate data, he added.

The project was the brainchild of veterinarian Toshio Mizoguchi, of the Fukushima Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, who wanted to find a way to monitor the effect of radiation on wild animals in the Fukushima area.

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