Fires are still burning in northern Ukraine – and flames have reached and are near the abandoned site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Although politicians insisted the situation was something to be concerned about, environmental activists and locals accused the authorities of taking the fire down, urging the worrying situation to reach the area quickly.
Local tour operators warned that the fire had reached the ghost town of Pripyat in northern Ukraine, near the ruins of Chernobyl, and that the unused nuclear power plant and Pidlisny radioactive waste disposal site were now only 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) away. “The situation is critical. The zone is burning. Local authorities said everything was under control, but in reality the fire quickly took over new territory,” Yaroslav Yemelianenko, a Chernobyl tour operator, wrote on Facebook.
“Stop doing everything that looks right! Tell people what is really happening. “Speaking to AFP, Sergei Zibtsev, head of the regional Eastern European Fire Monitoring Center, described the fire as “huge” and “unbelievable”. He added, “To the west of the exclusion zone it has already covered 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) according to our calculations.”
Greenpeace Russia has also warned that the situation is much worse than the Ukrainian authorities believe. Rashid Alimov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s energy project, told Reuters that the fire, which was ignited by wind, could spread radioactive particles in the smoke and spread radionuclides in the region and increase radiation levels.
Meanwhile, politicians in the Ukrainian capital Kiev have called for peace. Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko also said on Facebook: “Everything will be fine!” “The radiation background by Kiev and the Kiev region is within normal levels and does not exceed the natural background values,” Gerashchenko wrote. Police arrested a 27-year-old man and charged him with arson on April 4, Reuters reported. However, according to Reuters, it is not yet clear whether he has admitted to starting several fires as a joke.
Wildfires are not uncommon in this region. A study published by Environmental International in 2014 found that in 2010 alone, there were at least 54 fires in the Chernobyl-contaminated region, most of which were related to agriculture. However, it has been noticed that due to climate change and increasing tree cover, the risk of fires in the region is increasing and the tree cover is increasing as the area is reused.
Large-scale wildfires in Chernobyl’s forests could redistribute substantial amounts of radioactivity to Europe, the study said. However, given the size of the current wildfires, the risk of a situation that could affect the population of Ukraine or more seems slim.