Despite the reassuring words of Ukrainian officials, Greenpeace believes that the forest fire is not under control and is dangerously close to the reactors placed under sarcophagus.
The images seem to have come out of a nightmare. Thick smoke and gigantic flames invade the sky of the Chernobyl power plant. The gigantic forest fire would have already reached the ghost town of Pripyat and is approaching the reactors.
More than 400 Ukrainian firefighters were fighting a major fire around the Chernobyl exclusion zone Monday, authorities were reassuring while observers said the fire was dangerously close to the plant.
“The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the storage sites for radioactive waste and other crucial infrastructure in the exclusion zone are not at risk,” said Volodymyr Demtchouk, a senior Ukrainian emergency services official, in a video posted Monday on Facebook. He added that the main task of the firefighters was to locate the fire areas and limit their spread.
Ukraine has in particular mobilized water bomber helicopters to extinguish the disaster, which has been going on since April 4, sustained by high winds.
As the Criirad association points out , fires can resuspend cesium 137 accumulated in biomass in the atmosphere (and probably also plutonium and strontium 90). In addition, the Ukrainian authorities indicated on April 9 that:
“Large-scale fires can threaten environmental security in the region as well as the facilities located in the exclusion zone where radioactive waste, spent nuclear fuel and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant are stored”
According to the ecological NGO Greenpeace, this is the worst fire ever observed in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, which forms a radius of 30 kilometers around the old power plant. Based on satellite images, Greenpeace claims that the fire is only “about 1.5 km” from the arch covering the reactor which exploded by accident in April 1986.
For several days, the Ukrainian authorities have not given recent estimates on the size of the fire. According to Sergiy Zibtsev, director of the Regional Fire Monitoring Center in Eastern Europe, based in Kiev and linked to a United Nations program, the fire is “gigantic” and “unpredictable” .
“In the west of the exclusion zone, it has already covered 20,000 hectares according to our estimates,” he told AFP.
The director of an association organizing guided tours of the exclusion zone, Yaroslav Yemelianenko, told him on Facebook that the fire had reached the ghost town of Pripyat, which had been evacuated after the disaster.
For his part, the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of the Interior, Anton Gerachtchenko, indicated on Facebook that the radioactive waste storage sites are “completely safe” .
Ukrainian authorities say the fire did not increase the level of radioactivity. However, after the fire started, the acting head of the government’s ecological inspectorate, Iegor Firsov, said that the radiation levels in the epicenter of the fire were well above standards. He then returned to his words.
A fire started “for fun”
The fire was started by a young resident living near the Chernobyl area, who faces up to five years in prison for “destroying vegetation” . The 27-year-old said he set the grass on fire “for fun,” police said.
One of the reactors at the Chernobyl plant exploded on April 26, 1986 contaminating, according to some estimates, up to three quarters of Europe. The area within a radius of 30 kilometers around the damaged power station has been largely abandoned since then.