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As if there weren’t enough going on already, Chernobyl’s on fire.
A fire that now covers about 50 acres has broken out within the uninhabited exclusion zone around Chernobyl, the Soviet-era nuclear power plant that blew up in 1986. And the flames are dredging up old ghosts: Radiation readings around the area are almost five times what’s considered safe, and more than 16 times normal.
The plants around the chernobyl are still irradiated from the 1986 disaster. When they burn, radiation levels in the area spike.
Ukrainian firefighters were still fighting two blazes on Monday morning near the abandoned village of Vladimirovka. The country had dispatched 124 firefighters, a plane, and a helicopter to fight the largest of the two blazes, according to CNN.
“In the center of the fire, radiation is above normal,” Egor Firsov, the head of Ukraine's ecological inspection service, wrote in a Facebook post showing a video of a Geiger counter, a device that measures radiation. The reading read 2.3 microsieverts per hour; the maximum amount considered safe is .5, and readings in the area burning are usually .14, according to Firsov.
Without any people around, the exclusion zone has become a refuge for about 200 different species of birds, as well as lynxes and brown bears. Normal levels of radiation largely don’t affect the biodiverse ecosystem that’s flourished, but a spike could change that.
Radioactive fires aren’t the only problem that Ukraine’s emergency services are dealing with right now: Nearly 1,500 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the country. The government has set up tents to test patients around Kiev, the capital. Epidemiologists in the country expect 80% of the population to get COVID-19, 20% of whom will require hospitalization.
Luckily, the radiation from the fires around Chernobyl haven’t wafted over to the country’s more populated regions. Kiev, about 60 miles from Chernobyl, hasn’t been hit.
Vegetation has taken over the uninhabited area around the defunct power plant, which means fires aren't uncommon: It’s a problem Ukrainian officials deal with every year in the fall and spring, when careless visitors spark blazes.
“It can't go on like this anymore,” Firsov said. “Arson penalties should be increased by 50-100 times.”
Cover: A Geiger counter shows increased radiation level against the background of the forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, Sunday, April 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Yaroslav Yemelianenko)