Chernobyl fire must be stopped before it penetrates contaminated exclusion zone

An aerial view from a helicopter shows fire on the ground in northern Ukraine, April 28, 2015. (Reuters/Andrew Kravchenko)

Radioactive nuclides absorbed by the plants around Chernobyl from the contaminated soil can easily be released into the air and will have a cumulative negative effect on the health of those who breathe particles in, warns Chernobyl expert Rudy Mancke.

MORE: Smoke from Chernobyl fire could spread radiation far and
wide – experts

RT: How dangerous are these fires in your
opinion? Is there a threat of radioactive contamination?

Rudy Mancke: I don’t think there is any doubt
that there is a threat of radioactive contamination. When the
fires were put out at the Chernobyl meltdown site, that was one
of the fears. They were going to try to get rid of plants that
have absorbed radionuclides. The first thought was to burn them.
Then they realized that would release radionuclides into the air.
Then they thought about burying them, and that is really what
happened to a lot of them. But the radionuclides are picked up by
the plants, held in the plant, and when the fire comes, they can
be again, as you said, released into the atmosphere. And that is
a troubling thing not just for Ukraine but neighboring countries.

RT: Another concern is that we have seen
firefighters who are actually tackling this blaze, some of them
not even wearing protective gear, how dangerous is that?

RM: I think that poses another danger.
Radionuclides in the atmosphere, once you breathe them in, you
got them. It is a cumulative effect: The more you take in the
more trouble you’re going to have. That is the frustration. That
is a frightening thing. That is why it is so important. And I
think there is a lot of effort being made to make sure that fire
does not get yet to that exclusion zone. There are certain areas
in the exclusion zone that are more contaminated than others. And
they are further in the exclusion zone. So hopefully it will get
stopped before it gets there, or if it will get there, hopefully
it won’t penetrate the inner site of the exclusion zone. That
will be a dangerous, dangerous thing.

READ MORE: Forest fires heading for Chernobyl
nuclear plant – Ukraine Interior Ministry

RT: What could have been done to
prevent the situation we are in at the moment, because experts
knew the dangers, they knew the risks, they knew that one day
this could have happened?

RM: It is hard, you know, often lightning causes
fires; sometimes the fire gets away from someone with a campfire,
or someone who is trying to burn a little bit of the grassy
field. It is hard to control things like that.

But the sooner you stop the fire, the better off you are. And
from what I’ve heard, there is a major effort being done, and
being supported by people other than those firefighters in
Ukraine. That is something that needs to get watched. I bet this
is something that is going to get watched really closely, because
when Chernobyl Reactor No. 4 melted down, you know, not much was
said to the rest of the world for a while. Now people are on top
of this. I think they will deal with this much better of course
than they did earlier.

RT: Could potentially restrictions be put
into place so it does not happen again?

RM: And one of the problems in that area, is a
lot of the problems in that area, a lot of sandy soil, a lot of
pines, Scots pines are the common trees and they burn very
rapidly. And again as we’ve said the roots pick up those
radionuclide, and the soil store them, and then release them. So
it depends on the weather too. And I’m sure a lot of the people
watch the weather patterns where the winds are going to take
these particles. Belarus of course was hit harder than Ukraine
was in 1986. So I imagine they are going to be watching very
closely too. Hopefully the fire can be stopped before it gets
into the heavily contaminated areas.


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