Ten years after one of the largest nuclear accidents in history spewed radioactive contamination over the landscape in Fukushima, Japan, a University of Georgia study has shown that radioactive contamination in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone can be measured through its resident snakes.
The team’s findings, published in the recent journal of Ichthyology & Herpetology, report that rat snakes are an effective bioindicator of residual radioactivity. Like canaries in a coal mine, bioindicators are organisms that can signal an ecosystem’s health.
A Japanese rat snake is fit with a GPS transmitter that will allow researchers to track its movements over the next several weeks. (Photo by Hannah Gerke)
An abundant species in Japan, rat snakes travel short distances and can accumulate high levels of radionuclides. According to the researchers, the snakes’ limited movement and close contact with contaminated soil are key factors in their ability to reflect the varying levels of contamination in the zone.
Hanna Gerke, an alumna of UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, said tracked snakes moved an average of just 65 meters (approximately 213 feet) per day.