Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2020
Quotations excerpted from the report by Jane Braxton in the The Atlantic’s Aug. 10, 2020 edition.
In the 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactors in Ukraine…
“… wildfires … have grown larger and more frequent. Each fire releases radionuclides, just as [Vasyl Yoschenko, a Ukrainian radio-ecologist] and his colleagues documented…. 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.…[See Summer 2020 Nukewatch Quarterly, p. 6]
“Monitors in Norway, 2,000 miles away, detected increased levels of cesium in the atmosphere. Kyiv was smothered in smoke. Press reports estimated that the level of radiation near the fires was 16 times higher than normal, but we may never know how much was actually released: Yoschenko, [Sergiy] Zibtsev [a forestry professor at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine], and others impatient to take on-the-ground measurements were confined to their homes by the coronavirus pandemic.…
“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.… If Chernobyl forests burn, contaminants will migrate outside the immediate area,” says Zibtsev. “We know that.”[Beginning in 1993, Zibtsev] “spent the next five summers collecting soil and vegetation samples that were later analyzed for traces of radionuclides. The radiation he found there was higher than it had been in the period immediately following the explosions, a surprising observation until Yoschenko’s 2003 experimental burn explained it: Fires had burned 12,500 acres in 1992….
“In 2015, a rash of fires in Chernobyl brought international attention to their dangers. From April to August 37,066 acres burned within the exclusion zone…. “April’s fires … scorched 23 percent of the exclusion zone… nearly four and a half times the size of fires in 2015….”