Wildfires are common in the so-called Zone of Alienation around the abandoned Chernobyl plant. A larger-than-typical fire is stirring up radiation, though levels remain normal in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
By Maria Varenikova
VINNYTSIA, Ukraine — Firefighters have struggled to control wildfires burning through radioactive forest in the abandoned territory around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, where radiation levels are considerably lower than they were immediately after the 1986 accident but still pose risks.
Radiation readings near the wildfires, where smoke is swirling about, have been elevated, with the wind blowing toward rural areas of Russia and Belarus for most of the past week. The wind shifted Friday toward Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, but authorities say the radiation level is still normal in the city, whose population is about three million.
The Exclusion Zone Management Agency, the government office that manages the site, said the fires have burned through more than 8,600 acres over the past week. By Saturday, about 400 firefighters, 100 fire engines and several helicopters had been deployed to the exclusion zone.
According to the state center of radiation and nuclear safety, contaminated smoke is expected to reach Kyiv this weekend. However, the radiation level in the air, once smoke has disbursed far from the fires, is considered safe. It is expected to be about a hundredth of the level deemed an emergency.
Radioactive elements degrade at predictable intervals, called half-lives, that can vary enormously. The average particle half-life at Chernobyl is about 30 years.
The main risk from the fires comes from inhaling, via the smoke, small radioactive particles thrown years ago from the open core of the Chernobyl reactor, said Olena Miskun, an air pollution expert with Ecodiya, an environmental advocacy group.
“Wind can raise hot particles in the air together with the ash and blow it toward populated areas,” Ms. Miskun says. Also, radioactive particles can land on gardens or fields and later be consumed in food.
Read more at Chernobyl Wildfires Reignite, Stirring Up Radiation
Related article on Atomic Age: ‘Bad news’: radiation 16 times above normal after forest fire near Chernobyl via The Guardian