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Physicists say Chernobyl wildfire causes no radiation hazard, environmentalists disagree

April 29, 2015, 17:45 UTC+3 MOSCOW
The radioactive substances contained in the wood may get into the air with the smoke from the burning forest
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© EPA/TASS/ ANDREW KRAVCHENKO / POOL

MOSCOW, April 29. /TASS/. Russian experts have disagreed about the possible radiation hazard for the residents of areas close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exclusion zone as a result of wildfires there.

Thus, Leonid Bolshov, Director of the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that radioactive substances in the Chernobyl NPP exclusion zone can no longer get into the atmosphere, since for the time elapsed since the nuclear plant accident, they have gone deep into the soil. There is no radiation danger, he said.

"In 2010, when Russia, in particular, its Bryansk region, was swept by wildfires, we carried out a detailed research," Bolshov said. "The conclusion of these studies is that changes in background radiation below the registration level we unnoticeable. We’ve now checked it with the sensors in Pripyat, near the Chernobyl NPP - no change for two days. The reason for this is that over the past 30 years, radiation - that has not decayed naturally, has gone deep into the soil." The scientist says that "new, pure vegetation has grown, the burning of which emits nothing hazardous into the air."

However, head of the WWF Forest Programme Nikolay Shmatkov says that the situation is far from ideal. According to him, the smoke from wildfires may be dangerous and lead to secondary radioactive contamination of adjacent areas.

"Forest fires in areas of radioactive contamination are dangerous in principle," said Shmatkov, "because the radioactive substances contained in the wood have not yet gone deeply into the soil and may get into the air with the smoke from the burning forest. Then the wind may carry these substances to long distances."

He said that "inhaling this smoke is definitely not good for your health, and the deposition of these particles on the ground, of course, can also lead to secondary radiation pollution." However, he has no data on the radiation level in a particular wildfire.

"There is little danger for Russia so far, because the wind carries the smoke towards Belarus. It’s difficult to tell how the weather and wind direction may change," said Shmatkov.

According to previous reports, a wildfire in the Chernobyl NPP exclusion zone in Ukraine occurred in the evening of April 28 - a landscape park at an area of ·· 240,000 hectares caught fire. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry in the Kiev region opened a criminal case over the fire. The situation stabilised on Wednesday afternoon. Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseny Yatsenyuk, who visited the scene, said that background radiation in the wildfire area was normal. Ukraine’s State Emergencies Service does not exclude an arson version.

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