Wildfires – Ukraine

Ukraine’s emergency services appealed for calm Wednesday as wildfires raged in the exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine that went into meltdown in 1986.

“Levels of background radiation are normal … don’t panic! Everything is in order,” Ukrainian emergency services head Zoryan Shkiryak was cited by Russian media as saying, adding “the situation is 100 percent under control.”

There had been concerns that wildfires in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl accident would release radioactive elements back into the air that would travel with the smoke and contaminate new areas, potentially posing an increased cancer risk to the inhabitants of those areas.

A 30 kilometre radius around the old power plant marks the exclusion zone, an area in which parts of land exceed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s radioactive contamination standard. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the blaze was under control and had been contained to an area 20 kilometres from the plant, The Associated Press reported.

Environmental organization Greenpeace on Wednesday expressed concern that the Ukrainian government could be downplaying the extent of the fire. The AP cited officials as saying the blaze had swept through 400 hectares (1.5 square miles) of woodland on Tuesday. Greenpeace said in a statement that the affected area — including woodland, drained peat bogs and fields — extended to some 10,000 hectares.

Sunday marked the 29th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster that caused the deaths of at least 28 people from acute radiation sickness, increased the incidence of cancers in areas of today’s Ukraine and Belarus and contaminated vast areas of land, according to the UNSCEAR report on the accident.

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