Forest fires have broken out close the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, adding to fears that Russian military action in the area could cause a radiation leak.
Satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows at least seven fires within the exclusion zone surrounding the defunct facility, exclusion zone via satellite imagery taken by the European Space Agency, probably the result of the “armed aggression of the Russian federation” according to a statement by Ukrainian authorities.
The plant, infamous due to an explosion in 1986 that spread radioactive contamination across Europe, was one of the first locations captured by Russian forces following the invasion their neighbor on February 24th.
The plant and surrounding area have been sealed off since the 1986 disaster, but around 200 tons of fuel remains relatively unprotected at the bottom of the reactor and experts have expressed concerns that the current conflict could result in further damage and a new contamination event.
The cause of the fires is unclear at present, but Kyiv claims they are likely to be the result of Russian shelling. The statement added that Ukrainian firefighters were unable to reach the scene due to Russian control over the area.
Ukrainian state-run nuclear company also advised that the conflict had made it impossible to monitor radiation levels at the plant. “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,” they warned. “Radiation levels in the exclusion zone and beyond, including not only Ukraine, but also other countries, could significantly worsen.”
A fire near the reactor in 2020 caused radiation levels to spike to 16 times their normal level, and took two weeks to put out. There has been no comment from Russian authorities about the fires and it is unclear whether any attempt is being made to extinguish them.