x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Fukushima 'volunteers'

Japanese scientists are calling on the help of wild monkeys with research into nuclear radiation levels caused by the earthquake disaster.

After the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, the world watched as brave Japanese citizens volunteered to enter the destroyed reactor to help to limit the radiation. As terrible as the tsunami and consequent meltdown were, Japan continues to grapple with environmental effects. And another rank of volunteers has come to the fore, although these have not exactly offered their informed consent.

A new project to measure levels of radioactivity in the area around Fukushima, in the northeast of Honshu island, has hit upon a novel solution: wild monkeys are being equipped with collars with sensors that measure radioactivity levels. In fact, it is not first time the Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, have had a brush with fame - a well-known series of photos showing the simians relaxing in natural hotbaths became an internet phenomenon several years ago.

At present, Japanese authorities monitor ambient radiation levels using helicopters, but researchers are convinced that the monkeys will serve as better gauges because of their movements across their mountain habitat.

There may be some who will protest on behalf of the macaques. Then again, this is their native range, and they would have been living with the radiation regardless. And if it saves a human life, we are happy that monkeys are on hand.