Chernobyl (TEH) – Mighty plumes of smoke move into the sky over the damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The flames eat ever deeper into the forest. Aerial photos released by the Ukrainian authorities on Friday do not suggest anything good.
The forest fire in the exclusion zone is a very dangerous one: The emergency services have been fighting the fire in the radioactive area for a week. They now hope for rain, and people in Kyiv have been looking out the window for days. The capital of Ukraine is just under 100 kilometers from the Chernobyl power plant. But even there, the streets smell of smoke.
A long-suppressed nuclear nightmare is pushing its way back into the consciousness of the Ukrainians – despite the Corona pandemic. Many are wondering how dangerous the fires in the restricted area are. The nuclear expert Heinz Smital from the environmental organization Greenpeace spoke of a “critical situation”. Five years ago, fires in the exclusion zone had shown that “considerable amounts of radionuclides were released”.
He had no current data yet. “This is a dangerous thing for the fire brigade.” However, the authorities assert that no increased radiation was measured in the neighboring populated areas. But what about near the fires? The managing director of the environmental authority, Yegor Firssow, wrote on Facebook: “There is bad news – in the center of the fire, radioactivity is above the norm.” Environmentalists warn that whirled up radioactive particles could be carried by the wind for miles.
In Kyiv, the authorities tried to explain the morning smog with the weather. Older residents, however, felt reminded of April 1986 when block four of the Soviet Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded. Back then, the authorities kept the true extent of the disaster secret for days. The annual May demonstration was held on May 1 to demonstrate normality.
A little later, Kyiv was partially cleared, and the magnitude of the fire could be demonstrated by satellite images that Greenpeace evaluated. According to this, instead of a few dozen hectares in the exclusion zone alone, up to 20,000 hectares, or almost seven percent of the entire area, could burn. According to the authorities, it burns in 18 forest sections. However, they no longer specified a specific number for the fire area.
The concrete sarcophagus of the atomic ruin was already covered in smoke on Friday, and the fire brigade is unable to control the flames. According to civil defense, 380 emergency services are now on site. Because of the much too mild winter in the ex-Soviet republic, it is much too dry in large parts of the country.
Traditionally, people use spring to burn dry leaves and grass. Fires can spread particularly quickly this year. Wladimir Demtschuk from the civil defense service described the extinguishing operation as difficult: “I would like to emphasize that one of the peculiarities of the extinguishing work in the restricted area is that the technology cannot drive to individual sources of fire.” There was increased radioactive radiation on individual sections, and the administration of the restricted area appealed to the police to investigate the arson.
A 27-year-old has already been targeted by the investigators. The convicted man from an adjacent town confessed to having started a fire. As a result of boredom, he lit leaves and dry grass, the police said, and the fire service in Ukraine is not only used in the Chernobyl area. There are hundreds of open fires across 20,000 hectares nationwide. Only for the coming Tuesday do meteorologists forecast more rainfall. It is not yet clear whether they will only bring a respite or the end of the fires.