Rumours dispelled as smoke disperses

Strong fires within the Ukrainian Chernobyl affected zone have aroused ‘Internet panic’ with people speculating that burning vegetation may emit dangerous air-born radioactive smoke
Strong fires within the Ukrainian Chernobyl affected zone have aroused ‘Internet panic’ with people speculating that burning vegetation (within which radionuclides remain) may emit dangerous air-born radioactive smoke. Such proclamations as ‘Don’t go out without a respirator!’ and ‘Toxic smoke can easily enter your lungs and stomach, almost guaranteeing cancer!’ are unfounded, asserts the head of radioecology laboratory at the Institute of Radiobiology, of the National Academy of Sciences.

Candidate of agricultural sciences, Alexander Nikitin, tells us, “Serious scientific studies show that even powerful fires in heavily radionuclide contaminated ‘Chernobyl’ forests have no impact on the population!”

The question of transference of radionuclides via forest fires in the exclusion zone has been raised repeatedly over the years, especially during dry months. Belarusian and Ukrainian scientists have devoted much time and energy to investigating the risks to human health. The NAS Institute of Radiology reports that pollution of the lower atmosphere by radionuclides depends on the time of year, the distance from the exclusion zone, anthropogenic factors and forest fires. Their radioecology risk-model allows them to forecast possible outcomes (named among the top ten achievements of the NAS last year).

Model evaluation has shown that the probability of a significant increase in volumetric activity of ‘Chernobyl’ radionuclides is very low, even near problem areas. Mr. Nikitin assures us, “More remote Belarusian settlements have very little chance of ever being affected. Our conclusions are supported by gamma background measurements taken by the Institute from April 28th-30th, in the Belarusian part of the exclusion zone, in the Khoiniki District and in Gomel. Additionally, the Republican Centre for Hydrometeorology, the Control of Radioactive Pollution and Environmental Monitoring has been taking measurements.” He refutes all speculative advice about spending less time outside, saying that natural radon, which accumulates indoors from building materials, is more prevalent than radionuclides allegedly brought from forest fire smoke from the Chernobyl area.

By Lyudmila Kirillova

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