Largest forest fire since 1992 endangers Chernobyl nuclear plant.

A forest fire has broken out in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, within 20 km of the nuclear plant.

(Sputnik) The forest fire is being fought by more than 200 firefighters, National Guard was put on high alert… A forest fire has erupted in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. More than 200 firefighters, 15 fire engines, two aircraft and one helicopter are battling the fire, according to Ukraine’s acting emergencies minister Zoran Shkiryak.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that as of 6:30 PM Kiev time (3:30 PM GMT) the situation had gotten worse and the fire was approaching the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

“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. The Prime Minister has called an urgent session of the emergencies commission. National Guard and Interior Ministry forces have been put on combat alert”, Avakov’s statement reads…

According to the statement, Yatsenyuk has stressed that the authorities are tackling the situation despite the fact that the fire is the largest seen since 1992.

According to this article (Russian, Google translation):

Fire on the territory of special plant “Chornobyl Forest” can lead to secondary contamination by radioactive substances, said in comments RIA Novosti Ukrainian ecologist Vladimir Boreyko.

It is worth noting that according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, in the exclusion zone of 400 hectares of forest burn. However, according to environmentalists, which is based on images from space, fire area exceeds 10 thousand hectares…

As stated in an interview with RT Deputy Coordinator “Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus,” Dmitry Shevchenko when burning wood is not only carbon dioxide emissions, and soot, which spreads over hundreds and thousands of kilometers. Fire around the Chernobyl zone, according to experts, is dangerous because the radionuclides contained in the wood, into the atmosphere, may fall anywhere and spread over a long distance.

Shevchenko said that the Chernobyl zone is especially important to preserve the forest, because they are naturally conservative radionuclides that accumulate in the soil and wood.

Ukrainian ecologist Vladimir Boreyko believes that the fire on the territory of special plant “Chornobyl Forest” can lead to secondary contamination by radioactive substances. “We need to figure out where it burns wood: where the radiation spot, or where these spots are not. If there are spots where there is, it’s just air pollution. If there are spots where it is, of course, that’s too bad, because it is a secondary contamination by radioactive substances “- quoted by RIA Novosti ecologist.”

It was discovered recently that trees did not decay in the highly contaminated Red Forest near Chernobyl.

Scientists who have been studying the environment inside the Zone of Alienation since 1991 noticed something about these trees, specifically what they described as “a significant accumulation of litter over time” in a study published recently in Oecologia. And by “significant,” they mean the trees are not decomposing and their leaves are just sitting there on the ground, not decomposing either. This is especially so in the Red Forest, an area of woodland around Chernobyl named thusly because the trees turned a ginger color and died due to the worst radiation poisoning in the area. In an interview with Smithsonian magazine, lead author of the study and biologist at the University of South Carolina Timothy Mousseau called all this non-decayed organic matter “striking, given that in the forests where I live, a fallen tree is mostly sawdust after a decade of lying on the ground.”

The reason for this lack of decay around Chernobyl is that microbes, bacteria, fungi, worms, insects, and other living organisms known as decomposers (because they feed on dead organisms) are just not there and not doing their jobs. Mousseau and his team discovered this after leaving 600 bags of leaves around Chernobyl in 2007. When they collected the bags in 2008, they found that the bags filled with leaves placed in areas with no radiation had decomposed by 70 to 90 percent, but the leaves in areas with radiation? They only decomposed about 40 percent. “There is growing concern that there could be a catastrophic fire in the coming years,” Mousseau told Smithsonian. (link)

Last week, smoke from massive Siberian fires was seen on satellite over the US east coast. Expect this plume to hit the US within a week.

16 thoughts on “Largest forest fire since 1992 endangers Chernobyl nuclear plant.

  1. Forests in Eastern Europe are characterized by large, highly fire-prone patches that are conducive to the development of extreme crown fires. Since 1986, there has been a positive correlation between extreme fire events and drought in the two contaminated regions. Litter carbon storage in the area has doubled since 1986 due to increased tree mortality and decreased decomposition rates; dead trees and accumulating litter in turn can provide fuel for wildfires that pose a high risk of redistributing radioactivity in future years. Intense fires in 2002, 2008, and 2010 resulted in the displacement of 137Cs to the south; the cumulative amount of 137Cs re-deposited over Europe was equivalent to 8% of that deposited following the initial Chernobyl disaster. However, a large amount of 137Cs still remains in these forests, which could be remobilized along with a large number of other dangerous, long-lived, refractory radionuclides. We predict that an expanding flammable area associated with climate change will lead to a high risk of radioactive contamination with characteristic fire peaks in the future.

    • There is plenty of americium & plutonium in the exclusion zone. These are a good deal more dangerous than cesium-137.

    • The decomposition of the trees has been reduced due to the radioactivity… this brings more fuel to be aerosolized.

  2. RT:How dangerous is the situation right now?

    Timothy Mousseau: Well, from what I can tell, and there hasn’t been a lot of detailed information available, but based on the satellite image that I’ve seen and an area on the map, the Chernobyl map that has been outlined for me by people who are working in the town of Chernobyl right now – they’ve suggested it is to the south of the main contaminated area and heading north. And if you look at the satellite image you can see that the clouds, the smoke is heading directly towards Minsk, Belarus. And I suppose that is good news for Ukraine, but bad news for Belarus.

    RT: And how worried should Belarus be then?

    TM: Clearly you would not want to be downwind in the main plume. I think the greatest hazard of course is for the firefighters who have to go in and who are going to be forced to actually breathe this contaminated air. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, this smoke is heavily contaminated. And it is likely to get more contaminated if this fire continues in its northward trajectory…

    The simulations that our group undertook last year indicated that previous forest fires in the area had re-released, re-dispersed about eight percent of the radiation from the original catastrophe. Certainly the fire that we’re seeing today seems to be on a much larger scale. So we could see a re-dispersion of a very significant component of the original radiation. Again, depending on which way the wind blows, which way the fire goes. Whether it gets to the most contaminated parts of the zone, the so-called Red Forest area near the actual reactor.

  3. We had smog that was attributed to wildfires in Siberia about a week or two ago, here in the Fraser Valley. Apparently it was noted in Washington State as well.
    Was any particulate from wildfires around the Chernobyl region? Not officially.

    Quotes: “Tuesday, April 21, 2015”
    … “Have you noticed a bit of haze in the air and some really nice sunsets the last few days? Apparently it’s smoke coming all the way from Siberia. Cliff Mass at the University of Washington provides a nice summary of what’s happening:
    quoted from:

    Quote: “Amazingly the smoke is still quite intense when it gets here — check out this high-resolution satellite image from Saturday and note the haze over Washington and British Columbia:”
    quoted from:
    (cough, cough, wheeze)

    Seems like i’ll need to be paying close attention to MODIS satellite images over the next while. I posted some wildfire/smoke/MODIS links on your blog last spring or summer.

    If i can be of further assistance, please note.
    Paraphrased quote of “Red Green”: “If they don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!” 😛

    Shut down every “nukular” clunker, NOW (& cask spent fuel from all plants)! (pretty please, with Barium & Yttrium on top, so-to-speak) Preparations for Carrington to “come for dinner” would be timely too, methinks.

  4. Surface winds at Chernobyl were from the south yesterday and today, winds aloft would pull particulates into the jet stream just to the north:,61.83,1002

    Particulates that are not washed out over Siberia would be making their way in the jet stream to Canada’s west coast. Juneau gamma is beginning to show an uptick with today’s precipitation.
    Forcast for Juneau is rain for Thursday and Friday.

    EURDEP monitors are unremarkeable or not reporting (surprise…) in Russia. The jet stream is too far north to show washout over Japan, and the northern Japanese weather is mostly clear. If the refractory radionuclides are being pulled into the jet stream over Belarus, then Juneau would probably be the best place to see evidence of them in environmental radiation readings.

    Rain for Chernobyl this evening, and surface winds change from SSW to NNW. Should help fighting the fires or limit their spread northwards to the more contaminated forests.

  5. Chernobyl fires threaten release of radioactivity equivalent to major nuclear accident

    If the fires spread to the heavily contaminated forests and land areas around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the release of radioactive material into the atmosphere is certain. The amount of radioactivity potentially released could be the equivalent of a major nuclear accident.

    Since the 1986 accident a massive amount of dangerous radioactive substances has been deposited on the forests including cesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium-239. These forests, plants and soil are a major source of radioactivity, some of which was released from the fires of 2010.

    Based on specialist satellite data, analysts at Greenpeace estimate that the fire has spread over an area covering 13,300 hectares, of which 4,100 are actually on fire. The fires have not yet reached the highest contaminated zones around the Chernobyl plant but are currently within 15-20 km of the site.

  6. Chernobyl fire radiation hazard as ‘hot particles’ of plutonium go up in smoke

    The dominance of plutonium in the smoke is especially worrying since it is hard to detect using normal radiation detection systems such as Geiger counters owing the very short range of the alpha radiation emitted by the main isotope found in used nuclear fuel, 239Pu.

    239Pu is especially dangerous when inhaled and even small particles of the isotope embedded in lung tissue can cause cancer. But firemen and others using Geiger counters to assess their safety under exposure to the ash would be lulled into a false sense of security – only to suffer the consequences in years to come.

  7. MODIS satellite imagery gives us a look at what’s happening. The last clear image of the fire was taken on April 28, although we also got a partially cloud-obscured image today (April 30). On the 28th, the plume of smoke was moving directly to the north from a burned area that covered about 67 square kilometers, with several obvious hotspots on the perimeter that were still vigorously burning. Today, we measure a total burned area of 113 km2 — almost double the size just two days ago — although active hotspots were not apparent on this morning’s MODIS image, suggesting the fire may indeed be under control. High-resolution satellite imagery in Google Earth, taken in 2011, shows the burned area was a mosaic of forest and scrub / open fields.

  8. Quote of Phoenix Interagency Fire Center: “Coarse particles about 5 to 10 microns in diameter deposit in the upper respiratory system. Fine particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter can penetrate much deeper into the lungs. These fine particles deposit in the alveoli where the body’s defense mechanisms are ineffective in removing them.”
    …”Public exposure to smoke is a concern because eighty to ninety percent of wildland fire smoke (by mass) is within the fine particle size class (PM-2.5).”

    Quote of: “Wildfire Smoke A Guide for Public Health Officers” (modified 2001/07/10) “Particulate matter can also alter the body’s immune system and affect removal of foreign materials from the lung, like pollen and bacteria.”
    … “… certain sensitive populations may experience more severe acute and chronic symptoms from smoke exposure.
    Individuals with existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease
    Individuals with undiagnosed respiratory and cardiovascular disease
    The elderly
    [include Firefighters, Chernobyl Liquidators, Hibakusha & “neo-Hibakusha”?]

    (That document still needs updating to reflect our current reality and understanding, in my humble opine.) It would also seem that somewhat less than half of the original Cesium-137 is now Barium-137, which may be stable and non-radioactive but is oft not benign.

    Quote of “Toxicological Profile for Barium and Barium compounds”: ” The various barium compounds have different solubilities in water and body fluids and therefore serve as variable sources of the Ba2+ ion.
    The Ba2+ ion and the soluble compounds of barium (notably chloride,
    nitrate, hydroxide) are toxic to humans. Although barium carbonate is
    relatively insoluble in water, it is toxic to humans because it is soluble in the gastrointestinal tract.
    The insoluble compounds of barium (notably sulfate) are inefficient sources of Ba2+ ion and are therefore generally nontoxic to humans.”
    …”However, barium sulfate or other insoluble barium compounds may potentially be toxic when it is introduced into the gastrointestinal tract under conditions where there is colon cancer or perforations of the gastrointestinal tract and barium is able to enter the blood stream.”

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