Is Chernobyl Radiation Still A Risk After All These Years?

The Chernobyl disaster just won’t go away.

Here is rare footage of the ruins left by the Chernobyl disaster:

Radiation from Chernobyl is in the upper soil layers, and scientists are warning that wildfires can release it.


Chernobyl   (Screenshot youtube)

Chernobyl. (Screenshot/YouTube)


The team of scientists found the fires of 2002, 2008, and 2010 released cesium 137 through smoke. This was distributed over Eastern Europe, and detected as far south as Turkey and as far west as Italy and Scandinavia.


Chernobyl forest (Screenshot youtube)

Chernobyl forest. (Screenshot/YouTube)


The team calculated that the release would have given people in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, a dose of about 10 microsieverts of radiation—1 per cent of the permitted yearly dose. “This is very small,” says Tim Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, and a co-author of the study. “But these fires serve as a warning of where these contaminants can go. Should there be a larger fire, quite a bit more could end up on populated areas.”

The average dose isn’t the problem. Some people will get more, as fires send radioactive strontium, plutonium, and americium, as well as caesium, unevenly, and as some foods concentrate these heavy metals, for example caesium in mushrooms. “The internal dose from ingestion can be significant,” says Mousseau. The resulting cancers might be hard to spot among many other less-exposed people. “But they will be very significant for those who experience them.”


Chernobyl forest  floor (Screenshot youtube)

Chernobyl forest floor building up hazardous kindling. (Screenshot/YouTube)


In a study released last year,  Mosseau said: “There’s been growing concern by many different groups of the potential for catastrophic forest fires to sweep through this part of the world and redistribute the radioactive contamination that is in the trees and the plant biomass. That would end up moving radio-cesium and other contaminants via smoke into populated areas.

“This litter accumulation that we measured, which is likely a direct consequence of reduced microbial decomposing activity, is like kindling. It’s dry, light, and burns quite readily. It adds to the fuel, as well as makes it more likely that catastrophically sized forest fires might start.”

With climate change happening, the likelihood of fires is ever increasing. The UN Environment Programme is installing video surveillance for fires. But places like Chernobyl need to have better strategies in place to keep them from going up in smoke.

These are some of the radiation effects Mosseau has found on animal and plant life at Chernobyl:

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