Kyiv, 24 March, 2022
In the first days of the invasion of Ukraine, russian troops occupied the northern part of the Kyiv region. Ukrainian authorities have completely lost control of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. This poses significant risks of radioactive contamination. One such risk has arisen right now.
According to the European Forest Fire Information System, large-scale wildfires are currently taking place in the western part of Chornobyl (see map below). The total area covered by wildfires is more than 7600 hectares. Mostly forests or grasslands. More than 6,400 hectares of forests are also burning near Narodychi and Radcha villages, on the west of the Chornobyl zone. This information was confirmed by the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Ukraine.
The main problem: the forests of the western part of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone are one of the most contaminated. Forests near Narodychi and Radcha, although not part of the Exclusion Zone, also have significant levels of radioactive contamination (the so-called Western Radiation Trail). Fires in such forests lead to the release of radionuclides into the atmosphere, which can be carried by the wind over long distances. The threat is relevant not only for Ukraine but also for Belarus and even for the whole of Europe.
Forests are burning in the Russian-occupied territories. For now and for a long time to come, the Russian occupiers have neither the equipment nor the human resources to fight the large-scale wildfires. Moreover, it gets warmer and drier every day, so the intensity and area of the wildfires will increase.
In the nearest future, this could result in large-scale wildfires of tens of thousands of hectares, which are difficult to fight even in peacetime. Such fires could completely destroy not only numerous villages and towns in the north of Kyiv and Zhytomyr regions but also strategic nuclear facilities in the Chornobyl zone itself. For example, spent nuclear fuel storage facilities, nuclear waste storage facilities, etc. Fires within such facilities can lead to unprecedented releases of radionuclides into the environment.
The only solution is the immediate deoccupation of the territory. It will lead to the localization and elimination of wildfires in radioactively contaminated forests. We need to do it as far as possible. If the wildfires in Chornobyl reach a certain critical area, it will be almost impossible to fight with them. The whole world will feel the consequences.
The Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group continues to monitor forest fires in the Chornobyl forests.
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Appendix: map of forest fires in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone as of March 22-23, 2022 (below)