Europe’s Fukushima: Forest fire threatens Chernobyl; arson suspected


The encasement containing tons of radioactive material.  Image Source: calflier001

The encasement containing tons of radioactive material.
Image Source: calflier001

Chernobyl, Ukraine (TFC) – A large forest fire is closing in on Chernobyl’s failed nuclear reactor. The facility has been encased in concrete since 1986, but the danger the fire poses is not being ignored by authorities.

The fire is burning inside the 19-mile exclusionary zone surrounding the reactor and is only 12 miles from the reactor itself. The Ukrainian government says the winds are blowing the fire in the direction of the reactor. The trees, underbrush, and other plant life in the area are contaminated with radioactive isotopes. That radiation is being redistributed by the fire. The ash from the fire is spreading the radiation as the wind delivers it to the areas outside the exclusionary zone. Just a few months ago, a paper in Ecological Monographs warned of this exact scenario.

The fire is being combated by aircraft dropping buckets of water and by firefighters on the ground.  Ukrainian officials have increased security on the perimeter of the exclusionary zone that surrounds the radioactive area amid the arson suspicions. Through his social media account, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said:

“Patrols have been stepped up. National Guard and Interior Ministry units have been placed on high alert.”

There has been no mention of who the government suspect was behind the arson.

The largest worry is the fire reaching the encased reactor. The concrete sarcophagus designed to keep the massive amount of radiation contained was erected during the Cold War after the number 4 reactor suffered a catastrophic failure in 1986. The protective case is scheduled to be replaced by 2016. Inside the aged case sits 200 tons of radioactive corium and 16 tons of uranium and plutonium. The radiation level inside the protective barrier was estimated to be 10,000 rontgens per hour. 500 rontgens in five hours is a lethal dose. In English, three minutes of exposure to the radiation contained inside the encasement will kill you.

There are squatters that live inside the exclusionary zone that are currently being relocated by Ukrainian National Guard soldiers.