The word “Chernobyl” and the phrase “forest fires” are scary enough on their own. But put the two together in one sentence and add Russian soldiers hampering efforts to control the fires, and you have entered truly terrifying territory. That’s where we are today with satellite reports of at least seven fires within the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

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Ukraine’s parliament has claimed the fires probably started by the “armed aggression of the Russian federation,” though a cause has not yet been determined. These fires are especially dangerous, being within 10 kilometers of the abandoned nuclear reactor. Ukraine firefighters have not been able to fight the fires in this Russian-held area.

Related: Chernobyl’s abandoned dogs create their own exclusion zone community

The site has been closed since a 1986 explosion and fire. Chernobyl’s nuclear disaster blanketed much of Europe with radioactive contamination. The nuclear plant and environs have been sealed off since. However, about 200 tons of fuel remain at the bottom of the reactor. War and/or fire could unleash this radioactive material.

Nobody knows exactly what’s going on at Chernobyl right now since Ukrainian authorities have been unable to monitor radiation levels with Russian soldiers everywhere. “There is no data on the current state of radiation pollution of the exclusion zone’s environment, which makes it impossible to adequately respond to threats,” said Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company. “Radiation levels in the exclusion zone and beyond, including not only Ukraine, but also other countries, could significantly worsen.”

Dead wood around the reactor — die-off from the original nuclear disaster — makes the area fire-prone. In 2015, “an expanding flammable area associated with climate change will lead to a high risk of radioactive contamination with characteristic fire peaks in the future,” advised a team of international scientists. During a 2020 forest fire near Chernobyl, radiation levels spiked 16 times above normal. For now, experts can keep their eyes on the satellite and their fingers crossed.

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Pixabay