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Monkeys Around Fukushima Showing Abnormal Blood

Jul 25, 2014 02:13 PM EDT

Even the relatively minimal amount of radiation that was leaked during the Fukushima Daiichi power plant disaster in 2011 is having a big impact on wild monkeys in the region. A new study has shown that monkeys in the Fukushima, Japan area are suffering from blood anomalies linked to nuclear fall-out.

According to a study published in Nature's Scientific Reports, local populations of Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) near the Fukushima nuclear power plant were found to have low red and white blood cell counts, an abnormality that could lead to a weaker immune system.

The researchers determined this after observing and testing 61 monkeys living within 44 miles (70 km) of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

In 2011, a combined earthquake and Tsunami struck Japan's eastern coast, disrupting cooling processes at the power plant and resulting in a fire and reactor core meltdown threat. Thankfully, containment efforts were a large success, resulting in minimal radiation exposure, compared to previous reactor meltdown incidents seen throughout history. However, the range of radiocesium soil concentrations in Fukushima City were still 10,000-300,000 Bq/m2 following the disaster - high enough to be deemed a temporary health threat.

Two years following the incident, these monkeys - who boast 20-year life spans - had supposedly been living under the long term influence of low-level radiation.

Comparing the 61 subjects to 31 macaques living nearly 230 miles away from Fukushima, the researchers found that the Fukushima monkeys had significantly lower hemoglobin and blood cell counts compared to the distant monkeys.

"Abnormalities such as a decreased blood cell count in people living in contaminated areas have been reported from Chernobyl as a long-term effect of low-dose radiation exposure," Shin-ichi Hayama told the Guardian, adding that this study can help further an understanding of the consequences of long-term exposure to even extremely low levels of radiation.

Still, it is important to note that a direct link between radiation levels and the blood abnormalities was never found. Instead, the data just highlights a correlation.

Jim Smith, at the University of Portsmouth, told the Guardian that he is "highly sceptical" of Hayama's claim.

"The levels of radiocaesium in the Fukushima monkeys are about the same as those found in sheep in some parts of the UK following the Chernobyl accident, i.e. extremely low in terms of damage to the animals themselves," he said. "I think it much more likely that the apparently low blood cell counts are caused by something other than radiation."

A previous Nature World News report detailed how microbial life is extremely vulnerable to radiation, and this fact alone may contribute to some unusual natural phenomena.

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