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Japan studies radioactive snakes to assess the extent of the Fukushima nuclear disaster



Japan studies radioactive snakes to assess the extent of the Fukushima nuclear disaster


THE nuclear disasters that occurred in Japan in 2011 released more radiation into the atmosphere than any other leak in history, thethe only exception was Chernobyl in 1986. Since then, the surroundings of Fukushima have been evacuated and gradually re-inhabited. Meanwhile, studies with radioactive snakes have helped to better understand the long-term distribution of pollutants released by the disaster.

The research examined the iconic reptiles and linked them to mergers at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant was published in Ichthyology & Herpeology. The team of scientists studied how radioactive the snakes were depending on where they were found in Fukushima. After taking the measurements in 2018, by 2021 they finally managed to publish the study with their most important observations.

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Why were snakes used to measure radiation in Fukushima?

Since the disaster occurred, at least 150,000 people have had to evacuate as a preventative measure. Now a good part of them are back, but the nearly 400 km 2 around Fukushima Dai-Ichi are still considered a high risk area. To investigate how close reality is to that conception, the team placed “trackers” on the snakes that created life in theuninhabited area of ​​Fukushima.

In particular, it was thought to measure the levels of radiation through snakes due to their abundance and diffusion over the territory. These reptiles can be both predatory and prey, making them extremely important to countless ecosystems. Consequentially, they can offer a lot of general information about the state of the habitats in which they are found. Specifically, the scientists worked with hundreds of reptiles that were mostly so-called rat snakes. Thanks to the trackers and dosimeters fixed on them, it was possible to determine both their position and the environmental levels of radiocesium 134 and 137.

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In general, most of the radioactive snakes used for research lived within a radius of 24 km around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Thanks to their movements, the scientists were able to measure the levels of radiation found both in the soil and in the trees of the area.

Initially, they found that the levels of radiation recorded in the area were much lower than those obtained at the time of the disaster. This is due to the natural processes of decomposition of pollutants. They also observed that the levels of radioactivity were not the same in the different areas surrounding the plant. As a result, they realized that, at the time of the trio of disasters that occurred in 2011, the radioactive compounds were not evenly distributed in the environment.

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This is because the study was done only to measure how radioactive the areas near Fukushima were and not what effect the radiation had on snakes. As a result, we know that reptiles are exposed to pollutants, but not how they affect them. How radioactivity affects mammals has been studied in the past, but has never been done with reptiles such as snakes. Hence, the researchers see it as a task for the future.