1,200+ firefighters battle persistent Chernobyl fires amid radiation concerns

The forest fires near the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster have persisted for almost three weeks, with strong winds complicating response efforts


dpa, Hamburg, Germany

UKRAINE — Forest fires in the radiation-contaminated Chernobyl exclusion zone have persisted for nearly three weeks, with strong winds complicating the situation on Wednesday.

"Currently wind speeds are reaching 21 kilometers per hour," the state authority in charge of maintaining the predominantly uninhabited Chernobyl zone said in a statement.

A Geiger counter shows increased radiation level against the background of the forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, Sunday, April 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Yaroslav Yemelianenko)
A Geiger counter shows increased radiation level against the background of the forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, Sunday, April 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Yaroslav Yemelianenko)

More than 1,200 firefighters were working on Wednesday to contain several blazes in the area, the statement said, adding there was no risk to the structure encasing the devastated Chernobyl power plant.

"There is no threat to the shelter, radioactive waste storage and other critical objects in the exclusion zone," it said.

The 1986 reactor meltdown and explosion at Chernobyl is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Forest fires in the Chernobyl zone and elsewhere in Ukraine have been springing up amid relatively dry conditions in recent weeks after a winter that lacked sufficient snow cover.

Environmental experts have feared that such fires could stir up radioactive ash, potentially blowing contamination-laden smoke to Kiev, about 100 kilometers south of the Chernobyl power plant.

Federal authorities have attributed smokey air in Kiev in recent days to fires in the nearby Zhytomyr region, assuring that the radiation levels in Kiev are within an acceptable range.

"The radiation background in Kiev and the Kiev region is within normal limits and does not exceed natural background values," the State Emergency Service said on Wednesday.

The service has repeatedly reiterated that assessment in recent days.

A senior environmental official, Egor Firsov, said amid the beginning of the fires earlier this month that radiation in the Chernobyl zone was detected at 16 times higher than normal background levels.

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©2020 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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