The massive forest fires that have been burning near the abandoned nuclear power plant at Chernobyl for the past few days are now getting close to the exploded reactor, prompting fears of radiation contamination.
The good news is that radiation levels have dropped drastically since the horrendous explosion that took place in 1986, but there are still fears that the fires could trigger the radiation, or burn radioactive material, that could reach the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, 60 miles away.
Firefighters are working tirelessly inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone surrounding the plant and the city of Pripyat, and hope to be able to build firebreaks around the reactor – which is covered by a gigantic sarcophagus – in order to maintain distance from the fire.
According to reports, the Ukrainian police have detained a man on suspicion of setting fire to grass near to the exclusion zone.
The problem is, after the explosion there was a lot of radioactive material thrown about the area surrounding the reactor. Some of that will still be in the ground, and could be released into the air by the fire burning up the grassland.
That’s before we get to the possibility of it reaching the former reactor itself.
If the radiation in the ground were to be released, it could possibly spread to areas where people are allowed to live.
Since the events of 1986, no-one has been allowed to live within 18 miles of the nuclear plant, or the city of Pripyat.
To make matters worse, the areas that could be affected are already gripped by the fight against coronavirus.
A senior official involved in tackling the blaze, Kateryna Pavolva, told The New York Times: “We have been working all night digging firebreaks around the plant to protect it from fire.
“At the moment, we cannot say the fire is contained.”
As well as more than 300 people and 85 units of equipment attempting to control the fire, there are also three aeroplanes and two helicopters being used to dump water on top of the fires.
The Ukrainian authorities have rejected warnings from the country’s state ecological inspection service, Yehor Firsov, and they have since withdrawn warnings that ‘radioactivity is higher than normal at the heart of the blaze’.
There was an international effort made in 2016 to complete the gigantic dome that currently covers the reactor – the site of the explosion – for exactly this reason.
Fires are known to break out in the area, so the sarcophagus was created to mitigate against the risk of fire causing further tragedy.