Disasters & Accidents

Wildfire near Chernobyl nuclear site extinguished

Moscow, Apr 14 (efe-epa).- A fire that had blazed for 10 days in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, coming dangerously close to the nuclear power plant, has been extinguished, Ukrainian authorities announced on Tuesday.

Nikolay Chechetkin, Ukraine’s state emergency service head, said during a meeting with President Vladimir Zelensky that the flames had been put out but smouldering could continue for several days.

“The wildfire in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exclusion zone has been liquidated,” Chechetkin said.

“The emergency service needs a couple more days to completely extinguish the smouldering inside the zone and its surroundings.”

The blaze has consumed dozens of hectares of forest and the fire service poured an estimated 500 tonnes of water onto the flames using hydroplanes and helicopters, he added.

Firefighters were able to prevent the fire from reaching the structure that covers the damaged fourth reactor of the plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster which still contains deposits of radioactive waste.

Yegor Firsov, head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service, said that recent rains had “helped a lot” and that radiation levels at the site were within the normal range.

Authorities in Kiev and the neighbouring governments of Russia, Belarus and Poland have also reported normal levels.

Ukrainian authorities denied on Tuesday that the fire, which started on 4 April, had threatened the power plant or nuclear waste deposits.

Ekaterina Pavlova, head of State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management, said in an interview with local television that there was “no threat” to the defunct plant or vital infrastructure.

The official also denied that the flames had posed a risk to the nearby Pidlisny waste disposal site, where the most radioactive debris is located.

These deposits, sited around one and a half kilometres from the plant, were built to withstand natural hazards, Pavlova added.

Authorities also said it was false that the fire had destroyed homes in towns within the exclusion zone, as some activists have stated.

Local tour operator Yaroslav Yemelianenko wrote online that the blaze had reached the abandoned city of Pripyat.

“The situation is critical. The zone is burning,” he posted along with a video of the flames.

Pripyat was where the families of the plant operators lived when the fourth reactor broke down on 26 April 1986 and is now a ghost city.

Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom has questioned the claims by authorities that there was no risk and radiation levels were normal.

Activists have spent days digging trenches and making firebreaks to prevent the flames from reaching the plant, where a modern structure has covered the damaged fourth reactor since 2016 which has been designed to guarantee its safety for the next 100 years.

Authorities said on Tuesday they had detained a second suspect in connection with the fire.

On 6 April they said they had arrested a man after he confessed to starting the blaze by setting fire to some grass “for fun”.

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