Like Chernobyl all over again: Forest fires release plutonium particles into the air

Like Chernobyl all over again: Forest fires release plutonium particles into the air

05 May 2015

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Ukraine — Forest fire danger is taking on a new dimension in the Ukraine, where a raging wildfire near the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear disaster site is sending radioactive plutonium particles into the atmosphere. The Ecologist reports that as trees at Chernobyl burn, they are releasing radioactive plutonium particles that are being suspended in the air, which could pose a significant health danger in the form of radiation poisoning to people in the area.

According to Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, the radioactive materials would have been absorbed by the forest during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and have stayed embedded there since. As the trees burn, the particles are released and become re-suspended in the air.

“It’s like Chernobyl all over again,” Busby told RT. “All of that material that fell on the ground will now be burned up into the air and will become available for people to breathe. Internal radiation from inhalation is very much more dangerous than the background radiation that comes off the ground. People should stay inside. It’s extremely serious. They should not go outside and breathe the air.”

“The dominance of plutonium in the smoke is especially worrying since it is hard to detect using Geiger counters, owing to the very short range of the alpha radiation it emits,” reported the Ecologist. “Yet even small particles embedded in the lung tissue can cause cancer.”

The fires, being called “large and catastrophic,” are happening in a 30-kilometer (18-mile) zone around the Chernobyl site, and take up an area of about 10,000 hectares (39 square miles) based on satellite images. The Ukrainian government says there is a “reasonable suspicion of arson” when it comes to the fires.

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