Snake, Duct Tape, Dosimeters: How Scientists Study Impact of Radiation in Fukushima Exclusion Zone
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, over 100,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding area after the plant experienced a meltdown in 2011. An area of 400 square kilometres is still considered unfit for habitation.
To examine the long-term effects of radiation, the researchers captured dozens of reptiles, primarily rat snakes, and equipped them with GPS trackers as well as dosimeters, which they attached using hi-tech methods (duct tape and superglue).
"Because snakes don’t move that much, and they spend their time in one particular local area, the level of radiation and contaminants in the environment is reflected by the level of contaminants in the snake itself”, said Hannah Gerke, an alumna of the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and one of the lead authors of the study.
Despite the fact that the Fukushima Exclusion Zone is deemed uninhabitable, the nuclear accident didn’t cause drastic changes in the wildlife, at least observably, says Hannah Gerke.
"Everybody expects Fukushima to be a barren wasteland full of mutated animals. In real life, it is quite beautiful. I was there in summer when everything was lush and green. There is wildlife everywhere—just a surprising lack of people", she said.
According to official statistics, around 20,000 people died as a result of natural disasters and another 2,500 were missing. Over 6,200 people were injured.
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant withstood the earthquake, but the plant suffered damage from the tsunami, which led to a meltdown and the release of tons of radioactive material. The accident was classified as Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.