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Business & Economics News

Wildfires raging in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Wildfires raging in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine may stir up radioactive material and spread it to the surrounding areas, authorities cautioned this weekend.

VINNYTSIA, Ukraine —Firefighters have struggled to control wildfires burning through a radioactive forest in the abandoned territory around the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant.

The fires have been burning since early April in the forest around the abandoned nuclear plant, part of a roughly 18-mile radius created after the plant’s meltdown in 1986. 

The fires have burned through over 8,600 acres in the past week, according to the Exclusion Zone Management Agency, which manages the site. About 400 firefighters, 100 fire engines and several helicopters were deployed to the area by Saturday, April 11.

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But Saturday’s strong winds could spread the fires to the remnants of the nuclear plant and the equipment that was used to clean up the disaster, said Kateryna Pavlova, the acting head of the agency that oversees the area, in a telephone interview. “At the moment, we cannot say the fire is contained,” Ms. Pavlova said.

The main risk is that the fires could spread particles through smoke, according to Olena Miskun, an air pollution expert with Ecodiya, an environmental advocacy group.

“Wind can raise hot particles in the air together with the ash and blow it toward populated areas,” said Miskun to the Times. The particles could also land on gardens or fields and be consumed later.

“We are lucky to have quarantine measures in place now,” added Miskun. “People stay at home, walk less and wear masks,” anyway, because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Exclusion Zone Management Agency is trying to protect critical infrastructure in the Chernobyl zone, such as the plant itself and the so-called “graves,” or parking lots of abandoned, highly contaminated trucks and tracked vehicles that were left from the original disaster, officials said.