Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2022
By John LaForge
Ukrainian officials reported that a series of seven forest fires in the contaminated, Russian-occupied, 1000-square-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor complex are again raising fears of radiation. Doug Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, wrote in an email to the Washington Post, “Smoke from all three fires can be seen spreading south from the Chernobyl region” in satellite imagery collected March 22 by the U.S. space agency NASA. Jane Braxton Little wrote in the Atlantic two years ago, “Each fire releases radionuclides; each one raises anxieties in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and in Europe’s major cities. But none has incinerated the landscape at the scale of the fires that burned this past April . They were far larger than any since the 1986 disaster, burning for weeks and scorching nearly 165,600 acres.”
Nukewatch has often reported on Chernobyl’s recurring radioactive wildfires. Braxton Little added that “When Chernobyl’s trees burn, they send their stored radionuclides aloft as inhalable aerosols. Instead of blasting from a single source, as it did in 1986, the contamination now comes from the trees that cover some 660 square miles around the nuclear power plant.” Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-run reactor company, said about the current fires, “There is no data on the current state of radiation pollution of the exclusion zone’s environment, which makes it impossible to adequately respond to threats,” according to Reuters.