Fires raging for more than a week in Ukraine are less than a kilometer from the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but emergency services say the situation is under control.
Environmental experts have warned the wildfires could throw up radioactive ash from the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, threatening residents in nearby areas and the capital, Kyiv.
Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Service said in a statement April 13 that the radiation level in the Kyiv region “does not exceed the natural background values” and those in the exclusion zone around the nuclear plant are “unchanged.”
However, Greenpeace Russia warned the fires blazing through the exclusion zone are much larger than authorities in Kyiv admit and the fires pose a radiation risk.
“A fire approaching a nuclear or hazardous radiation facility is always a risk,” said Rashid Alimov, head of energy projects at Greenpeace Russia. “In this case we’re hoping for rain tomorrow.”
‘The Zone Is Ablaze’
Satellite images from U.S. space agency NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System show the fires have reached the outskirts of the abandoned city of Pripyat and were just outside the decommissioned nuclear power plant.
Chernobyl tour operator Yaroslav Yemelianenko, writing on Facebook, described the situation as critical.
“The zone is ablaze. Local authorities are reporting that everything is under control, but in fact the fire is rapidly spreading to new territories,” he wrote.
State Emergency Service spokeswomen Olga Kozak told dpa news agency that the situation is “definitely serious but under control.”
Strong winds fanning the flames have hindered firefighters, who have formed firebreaks to contain the spread and allow equipment to enter the area.
The fires began on April 3 in the western part of the uninhabited exclusion zone and spread to nearby forests.
Police say they have identified a 27-year-old local resident suspected of starting the fire. The resident was quoted as telling investigators that he had set some garbage and grass on fire “for fun.”
A number of regions of Ukraine have recently reported brushfires amid unseasonably dry conditions.