Forest Fire in Ukraine Approaches Chernobyl Disaster Site

Forest Fire in Ukraine Approaches Chernobyl Disaster Site

28 April 2015

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KIEV, Ukraine—A forest fire raged late Tuesday about 12 miles from the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, officials said.

Zoryan Shkiryak, acting head of Ukraine’s emergency services, said 200 firefighters were at the scene trying to put out the fire but the situation was otherwise “fully under control.” The fire was likely caused by arson or a permitted fire that “got out of hand,” the statement said.

Ukrainian officials assured the public that a fire so close to the scene of the 1986 nuclear disaster didn’t present a major health hazard. The fire damaged several villages in the “exclusion zone” of territories around the reactor that were rendered uninhabitable by contamination, the Interior Ministry said, and authorities were working to evacuate illegal squatters from the region.

“The situation is under control…our state emergency service is working quite hard to prevent the fire from expanding,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in televised remarks, adding that radiation levels had not increased.

But Mr. Yatsenyuk said the fire was the largest of its kind since 1992, raising alarm in a region where some 50 people died and roughly 4,000 faced premature death due to radiation after the Chernobyl accident, according to World Health Organization estimates.

“The flames are attacking the forest in the direction of the Chernobyl atomic plant,” Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov wrote on his official Facebook page.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko traveled to Chernobyl, about 60 miles from Kiev, over the weekend to commemorate the anniversary of the accident.

At the time of the accident in 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear plant was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities of the Soviet Union. An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over neighboring countries. The reactor unit that caught fire and exploded is now entombed under concrete.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Commission and the Group of Seven leading economies are trying to fill a funding gap of €615 million ($652 million) to fully enclose the site by late 2017. The new structure being built, called New Safe Confinement, is an arched steel enclosure over 100 yards in height that will cover the ill-fated reactor for at least 100 years.

The budget has risen due to design modifications and changes to the scope of the project. To fill the funding shortfall, the European Bank has pledged another €350 million provided the European Commission and G-7 together contribute €165 million. That still leaves a €100 million gap that the institutions hope nations outside the G-7 will fill.

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