Reinforcing that 2020 has been the most disastrous year in living memory, it turns out Chernobyl has been burning. For over a week.
Forest fires in northern Ukraine have engulfed the abandoned city, and are now within 2km of the power plant where the world’s worst nuclear accident occurred in 1986.
The main reactor is covered in smoke, while the flames have also come within a stone’s throw of where the nuclear waste is stored.
The fire broke out on April 4 after some genius set fire to dried grass near the exclusion zone, which spans a 30km radius around the site. Police have accused a 27-year-old local of deliberately starting the fires.
The government has downplayed the situation and urged people not to make “apocalyptic” claims.
However, Greenpeace Russia said the fire is much more serious than authorities have let on.
“A fire approaching a nuclear or hazardous radiation facility is always a risk,” the organisation’s head of energy projects Rashid Alimov told Reuters.
He added the fires could spread radionuclides – atoms that emit radiation – into the atmosphere. The area is already experiencing stronger-than-usual winds.
A Facebook post by Yegor Firsov, the head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service, said radiation levels were up to 16 times higher than usual.
“There is bad news – radiation is above normal in the fire’s centre,” he wrote.
People in Ukraine are obviously furious about the situation, so the government has since instituted a 14-fold increase on the fine for grass arson to around $9,000.
While Chernobyl and Pripyat were evacuated after the 1986 meltdown, around 200 people remain living in the exclusion zone.
The Soviet Union’s official death toll in the aftermath of the accident sat at 31, however it is estimated there have been up to 4,000 deaths in the decades after due to long-term health effects.
Just another disaster to keep on your radar.