Scientists studying monkeys living in the forest near Fukushima, Japan are worried. The Japanese macaques all have dangerous levels of radioactive caesium in their muscles.
Fukishima, on Japan’s eastern coast, was the site of a catastrophic disaster when a tsunami caused three of six nuclear power plant reactors to melt down in 2011. The event caused several deadly explosions and spewed toxic gas and radiation across the country and into the ocean.
According to Nature, a team spent over a year studying Japanese macaque monkeys around Fukushima starting in April, 2012. The team focused their study on the nearby monkey’s hematology in an area 70 kilometers from the Fukushima Power Facility, where the catastrophe occurred. For comparison, the scientists also included monkeys from Shimokita Peninsula and Aomori Prefecture, both of which are about 400 kilometers from the site of the power plant.
According to scientists, the study concluded that the level of caesium in the Fukushima monkeys was much, much higher than in the monkeys from Shimokita, whose blood barely registered any of the cancerous chemical. The irradiated monkeys in the 70 kilometer area were also found to have lower red and white blood cell counts than the monkeys farther away from the accident site.
What’s interesting is that the blood of humans living even closer to the Fukushima Power Plant site than the 70 kilometer area didn’t match the caesium levels of the affected monkeys. The primary reason, according to IFL Science, is the difference in food source. Whereas humans in the area obtain their food from a variety of locations, the monkeys are eating fruits, mushrooms, and insects obtained only where they live.
A previous study by scientists found that, like the monkeys, butterflies in the same region have also been wildly affected by radiation, according to Nature.
So, do the mutated macaque monkeys pose a threat like the ones in The Planet of the Apes films?
In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the rise from normal monkeys — er, apes — to super-intelligent creatures happens because of an experimental virus that changes their genes. After the most recent Planet of the Apes film, Time magazine tackled an article that looked at whether or not a Planet of the Apes scenario could actually happen. The shocking reality posed by Frans de Waal, an expert on primate behavior at Emory University, is that the change portrayed in the films isn’t entirely impossible.
Unfortunately for the macaque monkeys in Japan, mutation into super-intelligence isn’t probable. White blood cells are necessary to fight off infections and to keep the monkeys healthy. The high levels of caesium in their blood probably won’t give them the ability to speak, or ride horses, or use rifles. It probably will raise their chances of contracting cancer.
Unfortunately for the monkeys at Fukushima, due to the nuclear devastation rained down on their habitat by the highly intelligent humans, all they’ll continue to be is sick monkeys.