The forest fires that have consumed close to 1,000 acres of forest located in the Chernobyl exclusion zone have the potential to once again send deadly contaminants around the world. This is the biggest fire to affect the area since 1992.
The fire broke out yesterday and the Ukrainian emergency services have mobilized hundreds of firefighters in a desperate effort to contain the blaze. According to the Ukrainian prime minister, their efforts paid off and the fire was stopped from spreading
The Ukrainian prime minister stated that by Wednesday, the fire had been stopped from spreading, but not before it got as close as 9 miles from the derelict nuclear power plant. New fires were discovered outside the exclusion zone but according to the head of Ukraine’s emergency services, they are under “full” control.
Although the blaze did not reach the sarcophagus around Chernobyl’s reactor no. 4, the radioactive contaminants could still be transported by smoke into the upper atmosphere, as nuclear safety expert John H. Large told RT News:
Brush fires and forest fires were the greatest concern in terms of the means by which you can disperse a secondary radiological impact from the original dissipation that occurred in 1986.[…] In the exclusion zone and further away you have an area that has been abandoned for farming, abandoned for man management. That means you’ve got lots of brush and young wood growing out of control, and that means there’s a big fuel load to have a fire.”
The previous forest fires that affected the area re-released around eight percent of the radiation from the original disaster but none of them reached the magnitude of the one that burned in the past two days. Therefore, it has the catastrophic potential of discharging a significant portion of the original radiation.
And there’s another daunting prospect. While the radiation in the area around Chernobyl is as dangerous as they go, inhaling the smoke from burning irradiated trees is far more wicked, as Christopher Busby, secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risks explains:
Internal radiation from inhalation – in other words, if you inhale something radioactive and it gets inside you – is very much more dangerous than just the background radiation that comes off the ground.”
Not all members of the scientific community share the same anxiety regarding this issue. In the nearly 30 years that have passed since the Chernobyl disaster, they say, the contaminants have had enough time to sink deeper into the soil:
30 years on, the radiation in the soil is not on the surface, it has sunk down. New plants have grown on the spot, which contain very small doses of radiation,” said Leonid Bolshov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Safe Atomic Energy Development.
Bolshov added that the radiation sensors installed in the area “are not supposed to react – and they are not reacting.”
Phew! And we thought we were in danger but this clears up things. And in any case, it’s not like authorities from Moscow tried to keep the original disaster a secret. Quick reminder: the reactor exploded on April 26, 1986 but the Soviet Union only gave an official admission on April 28, when the radiation plume set off alarms at a Swedish nuclear power plant located 1,000 miles away.
We should totally trust information coming from Russia but at the same time, everybody grab their Geiger counter!