Radiation danger of forest fires near Chernobyl
Chernobyl’s radioactive trees and the forest fire risk BBC News 7 July. (this article also describes the heroism of Ukraine’s firefighters.) By Patrick Evans Chernobyl, Ukraine Much of the 30km exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant is pine forest, and some of it so badly contaminated that a forest fire could create a devastating radioactive smoke cloud.
Heading north from Kiev in Ukraine, you can see old
ladies and their grand-daughters sitting waiting expectantly in the
long grass, shaded from a sweltering sun, under the straight red eaves
of tall, orderly Scots pines which line the road.
It is blueberry season, and they are selling them by the plastic pint
glass. You could pull in to haggle, but Sergiy Zibtsev, a professor
from the Forestry Institute at the Kiev University of Life Sciences
does not recommend it. They are laced with radioactive strontium.
Berries are highly efficient at soaking up and storing radionuclides,
huge quantities of which were dispersed over large parts of the Soviet
Union and Western Europe by smoke plumes from the explosion. Radiation
measurement checks only take place in official markets, and usually
only for caesium. As for the hundreds of makeshift fruit stalls,
generally run by old ladies, these are never checked at all.
Having said this, the berries are not uniformly harmful. In an average
pint of them, perhaps only a quarter will be contaminated. The main
thing is to make sure you do not put them on your cereal every
Chernobyl Forestry Enterprise is now planting small new pine stands
which it plans to harvest in 80 years’ time. But there are serious
problems with the rest of Chernobyl’s extensive pine plantations.
Pine damages easily. Wind blows it down. Insects infest it. Drought
makes brush into perfect tinder which can all too easily catch fire.
And these dying radioactive plantations are considered too dangerous
and expensive to clear.
If ignited, one expert likens the potential effect to setting off a
nuclear bomb in Eastern Europe. Wind could carry radioactive smoke
particles large distances, not just in Ukraine, but right across the
Continue reading the main story
More big wildfires in Chernobyl would be catastrophic for Ukraine’s image”
To help establish or disprove such hypotheses, Sergiy has come to
Chernobyl to gather data about a very large fire which spread
unchecked and destroyed a huge area of Scots pine in 1992. A colleague
is preparing a scientific paper on the fire’s consequences, which are
still largely unknown.
Together, they hope to attract funding to model the danger represented
by Chernobyl’s forest.
If they can pinpoint the most vulnerable pine stands, the next step
will be to persuade the Ukrainian government and other partners to
invest in training and equipment to safeguard Chernobyl’s
firefighters, and perhaps eventually to clear parts of the forest
considered to be at the most risk…….
Sergiy says more big wildfires in Chernobyl like the one in 1992 would
be catastrophic for Ukraine’s image, and potentially devastating for
farmland right across Europe.
Lots of people are working on the problem, which continues with each
new hot summer.
Sergiy and his colleagues need support, not just to save Chernobyl’s
firefighters from exposure to high doses of radiation, but to stop the
particles migrating up into the air and away wherever the wind blows
them, spreading the legacy of an accident which many people think we
can already safely forget. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18721292
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