Radiation levels near the Chernobyl nuclear reactor have spiked to well above normal as two fires tear through the irradiated forests around the infamous facility.
Ukrainian officials have one simple message for their citizens: This is fine.
In other words, there is no immediate threat to human life, despite elevated radiation readings around the blaze.
The forest fires broke out Saturday near Volodymyrivka in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, a vast stretch of land that has been quarantined since 1986 due to heightened radiation levels caused by the nuclear meltdown that year. Ukraine has dispatched more than 100 firefighters to battle the fires, which have scorched approximately 25 hectares of forest around the nuclear plant.
Radiation levels have soared to approximately 16 times higher than normal, according to Geiger counter readings posted on Facebook by Yegor Firsov, head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service.
“There is bad news,” he wrote on Sunday. “Radiation is above normal in the fire’s centre.”
The Geiger counter reading usually shows 0.14 microsieverts per hour (μSv/h), but readings in the area on Saturday displayed 2.3 μSv/h, he said.
The Chernobyl power plant ceased all operations in 2000, and its ruined reactor has since been encased in a massive protective dome. No one is allowed to live within 30 kilometres of the facility.
Firsov said such fires occur in the surrounding exclusion zone every year, but there is currently no radiation threat to citizens in Kyiv.
“I want to calm you down,” Firsov wrote on Monday. “The fire in the exclusion zone … has not affected the radiation situation in Kyiv and the suburbs.”
He added a note of comfort for all citizens who are hunkered down indoors during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
“Don’t be afraid to open your windows and air the premises during quarantine,” Firsov wrote.
—With files from Reuters and The Associated Press
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