Japanese deer named symbol of Fukushima recovery

An ancient deer that has been protected by the Japanese village of Nara has become a symbol of the country’s energy independence following the September nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

The De-I-lå-se deer were declared a symbol of the resiliency of Japanese culture last spring after he was identified as being the only animal that continues to regenerate in the area.

“It’s difficult to imagine living without this deer,” the town’s chief municipal politician, Hiroshi Hasegawa, told CNN.

Since its arrival in the area in the mid-1500s, the deer has flourished under the protections of the village and under the control of the Iikotsu National Park (link in Japanese). But following the 2011 nuclear disaster, Iikotsu’s rich bounty of deer plants and crops have been threatened.

Now, amid calls for a US-style nuclear cleanup at Fukushima, scientists and local community members hope to find a solution to the de-I-lå-se’s shrinking habitat and resource loss.

The case for bismuth amalgam can be made for several reasons.

It is nontoxic and biodegradable, making it ideal for use as a means of decreasing the amount of air pollution from heavy metals (and the growing global population). Its effectiveness in decontaminating and decomposing ash at disposal sites like Fukushima has also been shown.

Add to this a Japanese-developed method of bismuth synthesis to manufacture the polymer by mixing bismuth hydroxide with other materials such as fine-grained iron and the protective resistance of bismuth to high temperatures, and you have a feline solution to the Fukushima phenomenon.

“Bismuth amalgam can be used to create an edible pellet that will be taken by deer, which will be used as part of the bathing and diet of the deer,” Hasegawa told CNN.

The pine nuts of the deer’s natural diet are traditionally boiled and left to soften before being served as an antioxidant and an anti-fungal, but they are not strong enough to protect the deer from the environment or from injuries, Hasegawa says. But a thin layer of bismuth, which is ideal for a skeletonized structure, can.

While Hasegawa admits that there are major challenges to the establishment of the Nara Bismuth Alkalination Project — like finding a bismuth synthesis source and an end user — he remains optimistic.

“The capacity of bismuth in the environment is exceeded by an atomic nucleus,” he said. “Bismuth is a natural material.”

The project, which is in its early stages, is currently organizing public consultations about setting up a government-sponsored bismuth industry in Japan.

Hasegawa told CNN that he hopes to have the first bismuth berry ready for harvesting in 2020 and begin processing other bismuth-based products in the same year.

Dr. Konrad Stangl is an authority on the preservation of plants and biodiversity and principal investigator at UC Berkeley’s California Invasive Species Research Center (link in Japanese). He maintains that the advantages of using bismuth berry should justify the higher risk of contamination by such a substance than by conventional pesticides.

“In many ways, the bismuth berry is ideal and intriguing: a plant where the root system grows through a biodegradable material to replenish nutrients back into the plant. Unfortunately for us, it’s easier to water a pothole than drain it.”

According to Stangl, this biodegradable formulation should be supported on the basis of the “strategic and scientific case that the product will be used to treat these depleted sites.”

But regardless of its viability, the animal will always have a place in the ecosystem.

“Our research is concentrating on the particular ecological importance of this deer in the present ecosystem of Nara, but we certainly wish to preserve the remaining deer of the park.”

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