Nuclear Concerns as Russian Wildfires Spread Near Chernobyl

Some foreign officials evacuate

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The hundreds of wildfires still spreading through Russia are beginning to approach areas affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. Although only 30 square kilometers around the Chernobyl facility are still off-limits, some worry that radioactive substances may remain in the upper soil layer in nearby the Bryansk forests. If that soil burns, warn environmentalists, it could release potentially radioactive gas clouds. Here's what we know about this risk.

  • Russian Officials' Ominous Warning  Reuters' Amie Ferris-Rotman writes, "Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said heat from fires in the Bryansk region, which already has nuclear contamination from the Chernobyl disaster more than 20 years ago, could release harmful radioactive particles into the atmosphere. 'In the event of a fire there, radionuclides could rise (into the air) together with combustion particles, resulting in a new pollution zone,' he said on state television, without going into detail. Shoigu added two fires had already broken out in the Bryansk region, some 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Moscow, but they were quickly contained."
  • Contaminants From Nuclear Cleanup  The Sydney Morning Herald's Tom Parfitt explains, "[Russian official] Sergei Shoygu said special laboratories were monitoring a potential release of contaminants in Bryansk region on the border with Ukraine, which was sprayed with caesium-137 and strontium-90 after the explosion of the power plant's fourth reactor in 1986. The alarming statement came as firefighters continued to battle hundreds of fires across central and western Russia amid the hottest temperatures in more than a century."
  • Foreign Officials Evacuate  Russia Monitor's Jessie Heath reports, "Canadian and Polish embassies evacuate nonessential personnel from Moscow, threat of nuclear cloud from Bryansk"
  • Gov't Must Consider Military, Scientific Facilities  Russian official for World Wide Fund for Nature Nikolai Smatkov told reporters, "There are radioactive substances in the upper layer of the soil in Bryansk forests and in forest areas in the regions of Lipetsk, Kaluga and Tula. They are remainders of the radioactive cloud that was coming from the accident zone at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986. ... The government should pay a great deal of attention to the protection not only of military bases and science towns but of those places as well."
  • Nuclear Material Nationwide Under Lockdown  The New York Times' Kevin Drew reports one averted threat. "Earlier this week, material was transferred away from a nuclear research facility in Sarov in the Nizhny Novgorod region, about 310 miles east of Moscow, as fires approached that location. The transfer of material removed any threat of potential explosions at the center."
  • 6 European States Join in Effort  The Moscow Times' Natalya Krainova reports, "Firefighters battling the worst blazes that Russia has seen in decades got a welcome boost Thursday when aircraft, firetrucks and personnel arrived to help from Italy and five former Soviet republics. Germany, Poland and Bulgaria have also offered to help douse the wildfires, which were burning on a total of 196,000 hectares in central Russia on Thursday, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. Three Italian jets, which arrived in Moscow at about 5 p.m. Thursday, will fight fires in the Moscow region, the ministry said."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.