At Chernobyl, Radioactive Danger Lurks in the Trees

Scientific American

By Jane Braxton Little

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine – Most days Nikolay Ossienko patrols the forests surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, clearing brush and dead trees from the grid of fuel breaks that crisscross the 1,000-square-mile area. But on hot July afternoons, when black thunderheads loom on the horizon, he climbs a rusty ladder 75 feet up a rickety fire tower. When he spots smoke, he radios the six other towers to pinpoint the location, then trucks off to the blaze.

"Our number one job is to save the forest from fire," said Ossienko, a burly, blue-eyed Ukrainian whose warm smile winks with a missing tooth.

It’s a job with international consequences. For almost three decades the forests around the shuttered nuclear power plant have been absorbing contamination left from the 1986 reactor explosion. Now climate change and lack of management present a troubling predicament: If these forests burn, strontium 90, cesium 137, plutonium 238 and other radioactive elements would be released, according to an analysis of the human health impacts of wildfire in Chernobyl's exclusion zone conducted by scientists in Germany, Scotland, Ukraine and the United States. Read more here.

Challenges Loom Large, 25 Years After Chernobyl

NPR Morning Edition

By Christopher Joyce

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant 25 years ago not only changed the lives of people in Ukraine; it also put a radioactive stain on the continent. And it showed just how far-reaching the ramifications of a serious nuclear accident could be.

On those late April days in 1986, plumes of radioactive smoke spread for thousands of square miles across Ukraine, the former Soviet Union, Europe and Scandinavia. Beyond 20 miles or so from the reactor, the doses didn't pose an immediate health threat. But scientists are still searching for answers on what the long-term effects of low-level exposure to radiation may be. Read more here.

Forest fires around Chernobyl could release radiation, scientists warn

The Guardian

By Patrick Evans

A consortium of Ukrainian and international scientists is making an urgent call for a $13.5m (£8.28m) programme to prevent potentially catastrophic wildfires inside the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl's ruined nuclear power plant.

The fear is that fires in the zone could release clouds of radioactive particles that are, at the moment, locked up in trees, held mainly in the needles and bark of Scots pines.

The consortium says an automated fire detection and monitoring system and new firefighting and forestry equipment are needed to guarantee safe management of Chernobyl's forests. Read more here.

If Chornobyl forests burn, what's the harm to Kyivans?

Kyiv Post

By Alexa Chopivsky

As Russia’s forest and peat fires continue to burn for at least the seventh consecutive week, flames kicked up in neighboring Ukraine, including two fires in Chernobyl’s 2,826 square kilometer exclusion zone, which is highly radioactive. The blazes were swiftly extinguished. And they are not unusual.Up to 70 fires break out every year near the scene of the 1986 disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident. Read more here.