Fires reach areas hit by nuclear fallout from Chernobyl

Forests contaminated with radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster are being consumed by the blaze, but it was unclear how dangerous the smoke might be.

MOSCOW // Fires have scorched forests contaminated with radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a Russian forestry official said today, but it was unclear how dangerous the smoke might be. Kremlin leaders are already grappling with Russia's deadliest wildfires since 1972 and a drought that has destroyed crops after what weather monitoring officials say was the country's hottest summer in a millennium. Fears of stirring up nuclear pollution from the Chernobyl disaster could take the crisis to a new level, though officials said radiation levels were normal in Moscow and once scientist said the level of risk depended on exactly where the fires were. "Yes, there have been fires," Vasily Tuzov, deputy director of Russia's forest protection agency, said when asked if there had been fires in forests polluted by the Chernobyl accident, the world's worst civil nuclear disaster. "Most of them have been extinguished now," Mr Tuzov said. He refused to give more details about the fires, referring to a statement on the agency's website which said that fires covering an area of 39 square kilometres had been registered in regions with forests polluted with radiation. The regions affected included Bryansk province, which borders Ukraine southwest of Moscow and was polluted by radioactive dust that billowed across Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Europe after a series of explosions at Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 on April 26, 1986. The Russian emergencies minister, Sergei Shoigu, said on August 5 that in the event of a fire in forests in the Bryansk region, radioactive particles could be propelled into the air. Greenpeace Russia said in a statement that three fires had been registered in badly contaminated forests in the Bryansk region, which was polluted with the nuclear isotope caesium 137. Radiation levels in the Moscow region were unchanged and within normal limits on Thursday, said on Yelena Popova, the head of Moscow's radiation monitoring centre. Asked whether fires in the areas contaminated by Chernobyl could bring radioactive particles in the Moscow region, she said the risk was still "theoretical". "There is a possibility that winds could bring contaminated air from Kaluga or Tula regions if major fires erupt there," she said, referring to two Russian provinces a little under 200 km southwest of Moscow that were also polluted by Chernobyl. "But our monitoring stations have not registered any increase in such activity so far," she said. * Reuters