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Chernobyl fire: Kiev claims no radiation threat, experts ring alarm bells


Ukraine’s emergency services battling the wildfire in Chernobyl have claimed almost complete victory, but people are extremely wary. Moreover, a much more serious potential disaster could be in the making: the spread of radioactive fumes.

“Firefighters are liquidating the last of the hotbeds,” a statement said as of 9:00 am on Friday, adding that some work remains at three separate smoldering spots. A radiological lab is on site performing tests. A check is reportedly carried out automatically every three hours by 39 automated testing posts, the statement from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine also reads.

Most of the 400-hectare forest had been engulfed by the flames. The closest point to the abandoned Chernobyl reactor is only about 20km (about 12.5 miles), inside the exclusion zone, abandoned and cordoned off almost 30 years ago, when the worst disaster of its kind struck. It started on Tuesday and triggered an emergency alert, with police and the National Guard mobilized to bring the flames under control.

“No increase in radioactivity has been registered” in the area outside the factory complex ‘Chernobylskaya Pushcha’, the statement adds, issuing non-alarming radiation readings from other areas including Kiev.

READ MORE: Smoke from Chernobyl fire could spread radiation far and wide – experts

But not everyone’s doubts have been dispelled. Greenpeace and a host of experts in the field are ringing alarm bells: “The amount of radioactivity potentially released from wildfires could be the equivalent of a major nuclear accident,” it told Govorit Moskva radio shortly after the situation became started. The potential danger in this fire comes from the radioactive contaminants the burning plants have absorbed, ecologist Christopher Busby told RT.

“Some of the materials that were contaminating that area would have been incorporated into the woods. In other words, they land on the ground in 1986 and they get absorbed into the trees and all the biosphere. And when it burns, they just become re-suspended. It’s like Chernobyl all over again.” Busby is the scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risks.

Numerous other experts in the field share these concerns. Randall Thompson warns: “If it rains on that cloud of smoke… once it gets inside you in any way – nose, mouth, hands, through your orifices – then you are being radiated.” Thompson participated in the cleanup of the 1979 Three Mile Island Incident in Pennsylvania – a partial nuclear meltdown at a nuclear reactor, the worst such accident in US power plant history.