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Forest fire near Chernobyl, radition spikes by 16 times: Know all about Chernobyl nuclear disaster

“There is bad news - radiation is above normal in the center of the fire,” reported head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service Yegor Firsov.

Apr 6, 2020 16:10 IST
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The Ukrainian authorities reported a major spike in radiation levels after a forest fire broke out in the restricted zone near Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, on April 4, 2020. 

The head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service, Yegor Firsov, wrote in his social media post that the firefighters continue to fight the fire. “ The situation is difficult, the fire spread to the Chernobilsk zone of 20 hectares, but more than 100 hectares are burning in total,” he wrote.

He further wrote saying, “There is bad news - radiation is above normal in the center of the fire.” Firsov had attached a video to his post that showed a Geiger counter that showed radiation at 16 times higher than normal.

Read Yegor Firsov's full post here:How did the forest fire start?

As per Yegor Firsov, first, someone set the grass on fire and then the fire overturned and spread to the trees. Ukraine has set a penalty worth 175 UAH for burning fields or grass but it still has cases of such fires every year. Firsov has recommended raising of the arson penalties by at least 50-100 times. 

How is Ukraine tackling the situation?

Ukraine deployed two planes, one helicopter and about 100 firefighters to combat the fire. By the morning of April 5th, the fire was not visibly burning and no increase in radiation was detected. However, the emergency service reported that the increase in radiation levels in certain areas on April 4th had led to difficulties in dousing the blaze. There was though no danger to people living in nearby towns, the emergency service stressed. 

Chernobyl disaster

What is Chernobyl disaster?

The Chernobyl disaster is the world’s worst nuclear accident, which occurred on April 26, 1986, at the No. 4 nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near Ukraine's Pripyat city.

How did Chernobyl nuclear accident take place?

The accident happened during a safety test on an RBMK-type nuclear reactor. During the test, the power of the nuclear reactor unexpectedly dropped to zero and operators were only able to restore the specified test power, which the reactor in an unstable condition. 

Though the risk was clear in the operating instructions, the operators still proceeded with the electrical test and after completion, they triggered a shutdown at the reactor. But a combination of unstable conditions and design flaws in the reactor caused an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction.

This set off a large amount of energy, vapourising superheated cooling water and rupturing the reactor core in a highly destructive steam explosion. This was followed by an open-air reactor core fire, which released a considerable amount of airborne radioactive contamination for almost nine days into parts of the then USSR and western Europe before being finally contained on May 4.

Containment efforts 

A 10 km radius exclusion zone was created within 36 hours after the accident and about 49,000 people were evacuated from the area. The exclusion zone was later increased to 30 km and a further 68,000 people were evacuated. 

Chernobyl Accident Casualties

The explosion of the nuclear reactor killed two operating staff and about 134 station staff and firemen who were a part of the emergency response were hospitalised after absorbing high doses of ionizing radiation. Among them, 28 died in the days and months that followed. Among others, 14 other suspected radiation-induced cancer deaths were reported within the next 10 years.

According to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), fewer than 100 documented deaths in the present are likely to be due to increased exposure to radiation. Though determining the total number of radiation-exposure related deaths is difficult, around 9000-16000 people are reported to have died in Europe over the years, as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. 

Impact

The Chernobyl disaster is considered the worst nuclear power accident in history both in cost and number of casualties. To reduce the further spread of radioactive contamination from the wreckage of the plant, a protective Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sarcophagus was built by December 1986. It also protected the crews of the other undamaged reactors at the site, which continued to operate. 

However, due to the deterioration in the condition of the casket, the area was further enclosed in 2017 by the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement and a nuclear clean-up was ordered to remove both the casket and remnants of the reactor. The nuclear clean-up is scheduled to be completed by 2065. 

Current Scenario

Currently, people are not allowed to live within 30 km of the Chernobyl nuclear power station. The three remaining reactors continued to generate electricity till 2000 when the power station was shut down. The latest forest fire was within the 2,600 sqkm Chernobyl Exclusion Zone that was established after the 1986 disaster. The zone is largely empty except for 200 people who live there despite being ordered to leave. Even 34 years after the disaster the radiation levels in the zone have not normalised. 

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