(TargetLiberty.org) – Atomic-tipped snakes sound like something from the plot of a low-budget horror movie, but scientists think the radioactive reptiles could help them plot contaminated areas around the scene of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.
A team from the University of Georgia is investigating the spread of radioactive contamination around Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, the scene of a massive 2011 nuclear accident. The ruins of the plant are now surrounded by an exclusion zone, and researchers can only spend limited time studying it – but now they plan to enlist some little scaly helpers.
“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.” https://t.co/9w9V4TCDaI
— WIRED (@WIRED) August 28, 2021
The team has found that Japanese rat snakes, a non-venomous species that can grow to be six feet long, pick up levels of radiation that closely match the ground they crawl over. Even better, the snakes don’t travel far from home – rarely more than 65 meters a day. That means if you can monitor a snake, you can determine its level of radioactivity.
Ecologist Hanna Gerke has tagged nine snakes with radio transmitters, and she’s confirmed that they tend to stay in small areas near roads and streams. She’s also fitted them with miniature dosimeters – devices that record the radiation dose they are picking up. This way, they can slither around the exclusion zone collecting vital data on how the environment is recovering from 2011’s devastating accident.
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