When the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded in April 1986, it was the worst nuclear disaster the world had ever seen. In the three decades since, the entire power plant has been shut down and the area has been slowly reclaimed by nature .
The plant is now headed for another potential disaster, as fires in the surrounding forests are getting closer and closer to the old reactor.
Radiation Levels Spiked
At the beginning of April, Ukrainian officials reported a spike in radiation that is sixteen times above normal, after a forest fire broke out within the restricted area near the old nuclear power plant .
While these radiation levels are not near as high as the levels released after the initial explosion, Ukraine’s Emergency Ministry said that the rise in radiation in some areas had caused some difficulties in fighting the fire .
The Fires are Getting Closer
According to Greenpeace Russia, the largest of the fires has covered 34 thousand hectares, and the fire closest to the plant is about 12 thousand hectares in size. They have now reached the abandoned town of Pripyat, which used to serve the town .
Yaroslav Emelianenko, who provides tours for tourists in the area, explained that it would be an economic disaster if the fire were to destroy the town, because tourism there has become a valuable source of revenue .
How Did the Fires Start?
Since then, more than 300 firefighters have been deployed to the site, along with helicopters and planes that are attempting to extinguish the fires from above.
Head of the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management, Kateryna Pavlova, said in an interview that they had been working all night to protect the plant from the fire, but could not say that the fires were contained .
Who is At Risk?
Officials have announced that fires near a couple of villages close to the exclusion zone have been put out.
The main concern, of course, is the levels of radiation that are being emitted into the air around the plant and traveling to nearby towns and cities. The State Emergency Service, however, that radiation levels in Kyiv, the capital city, are within normal levels .
This, of course, comes at a particularly difficult time, when most of the residents nearby are living in quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yegor Firsov, head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service, however, has informed residents of Kyiv and nearby towns that they do not have to be afraid of opening their windows during quarantine .
Calling on Higher Fines for Arson
Firsov said that fires like this are fairly common in the forests surrounding the power plant, however since this one was caused by arson, he is calling on the Ukrainian government to introduce higher fines for people who commit such an act.
“Every year we see the same picture – in all regions burning fields, reed, forests. This barbaric must finally be stopped. At the first meeting of parliament, deputies should significantly raise penalties for arson. It can’t go on like this anymore.”
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