May 4, 2015

Chernobyl fire radiation hazard as 'hot particles' of plutonium go up in smoke

Forest fires raging near the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear disaster site in north Ukraine are releasing a surge of airborne plutonium particles as radioactive twigs, branches and leaf litter burn.

The dominance of plutonium in the smoke is especially worrying since it is hard to detect using Geiger counters owing the very short range of the alpha radiation it emits. Yet even small particles embedded in lung tissue can cause cancer.

The Ukrainian National Guard has been put on high alert due to worsening forest fires around the crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant, according to Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

"The forest fire situation around the Chernobyl power plant has escalated", a statement onAvakov's Facebook page says.

"The forest fire is heading in the direction of Chernobyl's installations. Treetop flames and strong gusts of wind have created a real danger of the fire spreading to an area within 20 kilometers of the power plant. There are about 400 hectares [988 acres] of forests in the endangered area."

He added that there was "reasonable suspicion of intentional arson" since fires had been ignited on both sides of the river.

Police and National Guard units are on high alert. Ukraine's Prime Minister personally went to the affected area to oversee the firefighting. He says the situation is under control, "but this is the biggest fire since 1992."

However, in comments to Russia's Moscow Speaks radio, a representative of Greenpeace Russia said that the situation is much worse:

"A very large, catastrophic forest fire is taking place in a 30-km zone around the Chernobyl power plant. We estimate the real area of the fire to be 10,000 hectares; this is based on satellite images. This hasn't been officially acknowledged yet."

Serious radiation risk from re-suspended 'hot particles'

The potential danger in this fire comes from the radioactive contaminants the burning plants have absorbed, Christopher Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, told RT.

Please continue reading from - The Ecologist