Wild monkeys and boars enlisted to help measure Fukushima radiation in Japan

Many challenges remain in measuring radiation leaked from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, after a devastating quake and tsunami 9 months ago left that site crippled. The crowdsourced efforts of a DIY tech group called Safecast were the subject of a report I produced with Miles O'Brien for NewsHour; other projects to capture this badly-needed data have been led by young mothers.

Today, a story is circulating about a group of researchers from Japan's Fukushima University who plan to enlist the help of wild monkeys, and maybe wild boars, to monitor radiation starting in Spring of 2012.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Researchers from Fukushima University plan to kit wild monkeys out with radiation-measuring collars to track the contamination levels deep in the forests, where it's difficult for humans to go. (…) The monkey collars are geared with a small radiation-measuring device, a GPS system and an instrument that can detect the monkey's distance from the ground as the radiation level is being tallied. Mr. Takahashi said more contraptions may be added, but these will be the three main ones.

So, it sounds like they'll capture the critters, tranquilize them, attach the devices, then free them again back in the wild to roam around and passively gather/transmit readings.

CNN reports that veterinarian Toshio Mizoguchi of the Fukushima Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (run by the regional government) came up with the idea. He wanted to find a way to observe the effect of radiation on the wild animals near Fukushima.

The researchers will first focus on the mountains near Minamisoma city, about 25 kilometers/16 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Some 14 monkey colonies are known to inhabit this area. Minamisoma city and its mayor Katsunobo Sakurai became "internet-famous" when the mayor posted a desperate appeal for help on YouTube.

During our reporting trip to Japan, I went with Miles to interview mayor Sakurai, by the way — the interview didn't make it into our NewsHour piece, but man, he was really a fascinating character. Apparently things have not been easy for him personally or politically since.

More around the 'net about the "radiation-measuring monkeys will save Japan" story: CNN, ABC, Telegraph.

(Thanks, Miles O'Brien)

(Image: Snow Monkeys, or Japanese Macaques, bathe in the onsen hot springs of Nagano, Japan. This site is a considerable distance from the area that will be the focus of this project, and I'd imagine a different species may be involved.)