From: Kate Kelland, Reuters
Published August 14, 2010 08:01 AM

Few Chernobyl radiation risks from Russia fires

Fears that fires scorching forests polluted by Chernobyl fallout may propel dangerous amounts of radioactivity into the air are overblown, scientists say, and the actual health risks are very small.

Even firefighters tackling the blazes, which officials say have hit forests in Russia's Bryansk region tainted by radioactive dust from the 1986 Chernobyl reactor disaster, are unlikely to run any added nuclear contamination risks.

The amount of radiation in smoke would be only a fraction of the original fallout, they say.

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"Of the total radioactivity in the area, much less than one percent of it will be remobilized," said Jim Smith, an expert on Chernobyl and a specialist in Earth and Environmental Sciences at Britain's University of Portsmouth.

Radioactive contamination in the area has substantially diminished in the almost two and a half decades since explosions at Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 caused the world's worst civil nuclear disaster on April 26, 1986.

"Most of the radioactivity is in the soil, which will not be affected by the fires, and only a small proportion is in the vegetation," Smith said in a telephone interview. "And of that only a very small proportion of that will get re-suspended in the smoke from the fires."

Russia's forest protection agency said on Wednesday that fires covering an area of 39 square kilometers (15 square miles) had been registered in regions with forests polluted with radiation. The regions affected included Bryansk province, which borders Ukraine, southwest of Moscow.

Both France's Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety and Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection said on Thursday that while some radiation was likely to be remobilized in smoke, the health risks were minimal and would have no impact on either Russia or neighboring countries.

Photo shows a firefighter working to extinguish a wildfire outside the settlement of Kustarevka in Ryazan region, some 340 km (211 miles) southeast of Moscow August 10, 2010. Credit: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE67B1YK20100813

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