Radiation spikes after wildfire in Chernobyl exclusion zone

Ukrainian nuclear inspectors have measured a significant increase in radiation in the Chernobyl exclusion zone caused by heavy wildfires raging in close proximity to the crippled nuclear power station.

Air near the desolated settlement of Polesskoye in the Chernobyl zone is contaminated with the radioactive element cesium-137. Its content in the air has reached a level called “sequence above the norm” (approximately ten times the norm), the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRI) reported on Wednesday.

Cesium-137 is one of the most dangerous nuclear elements, as it accumulates in the body and can lead to leukemia.

The agency, however, has not released any information regarding possible health hazards for people living near the zone or firemen battling blazes nearby. It asserts that all other indicators in the area are normal. SNRI proposes anonline mapwith the results of its monitoring of the situation.

READ MORE: New wildfire sends smoke billowing over Chernobyl exclusion zone

According to Ukrainian officials, a wildfire spread across a territory of about 130 hectares on Tuesday. The State Emergency Service of Ukraine claims that the blaze is now under control though not completely extinguished. It has deployed 117 firemen and 24 units of fire-fighting equipment in the area.

“The worst scenario – and the most likely one – is that particles of plutonium and uranium will be re-suspended and … there will be a slight increase in cancer in nearest areas,” Cristopher Busby, the scientific secretary for the European Committee on Radiation Risks, told RT.

This is not the first wildfire to break out near the Chernobyl nuclear power station this year. Early in May another 400 hectares of forests in the zone were burning, but Kiev authorities claimed there had been no serious contamination.

READ MORE: Chernobyl fire: Kiev claims no radiation threat, experts ring alarm bells

However, scientists warn that wildfires in the area can lead to catastrophic consequences. In 2014, an international team of scientists published a study which posited that “The resulting releases of Cesium-137 after hypothetical wildfires in Chernobyl’s forests are classified as high in the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). The estimated cancer incidents and fatalities are expected to be comparable to those predicted for Fukushima.

The Chernobyl nuclear plant was crippled after a catastrophic nuclear accident on April 26, 1986. People living in the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power station were evacuated due to the nuclear contamination. The plant is located about 100 kilometers from Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.