Chernobyl fire must be stopped before it penetrates contaminated exclusion zone

An aerial view from a helicopter shows fire on the ground in northern Ukraine, April 28, 2015. (Reuters/Andrew Kravchenko)
Radioactive nuclides absorbed by the plants around Chernobyl from the contaminated soil can easily be released into the air and will have a cumulative negative effect on the health of those who breathe particles in, warns Chernobyl expert Rudy Mancke.

READ MORE: Smoke from Chernobyl fire could spread radiation far and wide – experts

RT:How dangerous are these fires in your opinion? Is there a threat of radioactive contamination?

Rudy Mancke: I don’t think there is any doubt that there is a threat of radioactive contamination. When the fires were put out at the Chernobyl meltdown site, that was one of the fears. They were going to try to get rid of plants that have absorbed radionuclides. The first thought was to burn them. Then they realized that would release radionuclides into the air. Then they thought about burying them, and that is really what happened to a lot of them. But the radionuclides are picked up by the plants, held in the plant, and when the fire comes, they can be again, as you said, released into the atmosphere. And that is a troubling thing not just for Ukraine but neighboring countries.

RT:Another concern is that we have seen firefighters who are actually tackling this blaze, some of them not even wearing protective gear, how dangerous is that?

RM: I think that poses another danger. Radionuclides in the atmosphere, once you breathe them in, you got them. It is a cumulative effect: The more you take in the more trouble you’re going to have. That is the frustration. That is a frightening thing. That is why it is so important. And I think there is a lot of effort being made to make sure that fire does not get yet to that exclusion zone. There are certain areas in the exclusion zone that are more contaminated than others. And they are further in the exclusion zone. So hopefully it will get stopped before it gets there, or if it will get there, hopefully it won't penetrate the inner site of the exclusion zone. That will be a dangerous, dangerous thing.

READ MORE: Forest fires heading for Chernobyl nuclear plant – Ukraine Interior Ministry

RT:What could have been done to prevent the situation we are in at the moment, because experts knew the dangers, they knew the risks, they knew that one day this could have happened?

RM: It is hard, you know, often lightning causes fires; sometimes the fire gets away from someone with a campfire, or someone who is trying to burn a little bit of the grassy field. It is hard to control things like that.

But the sooner you stop the fire, the better off you are. And from what I've heard, there is a major effort being done, and being supported by people other than those firefighters in Ukraine. That is something that needs to get watched. I bet this is something that is going to get watched really closely, because when Chernobyl Reactor No. 4 melted down, you know, not much was said to the rest of the world for a while. Now people are on top of this. I think they will deal with this much better of course than they did earlier.

RT:Could potentially restrictions be put into place so it does not happen again?

RM: And one of the problems in that area, is a lot of the problems in that area, a lot of sandy soil, a lot of pines, Scots pines are the common trees and they burn very rapidly. And again as we’ve said the roots pick up those radionuclide, and the soil store them, and then release them. So it depends on the weather too. And I'm sure a lot of the people watch the weather patterns where the winds are going to take these particles. Belarus of course was hit harder than Ukraine was in 1986. So I imagine they are going to be watching very closely too. Hopefully the fire can be stopped before it gets into the heavily contaminated areas.

MORE: