Source: The Guardian
11 August 2010 - Forest wardens today stepped up patrols in the Chernobyl fallout zone as a leading ecologist warned that fires could send radioactive particles as far as Moscow.
Around 160,000 emergency personnel are battling 600 wildfires across Russia, 290 of which ignited in the last 24 hours.
Greenpeace said at least 20 fires – three of them in a highly contaminated forest area – had broken out in the Bryansk region, bordering northern Ukraine, in recent days.
Bryansk was part of the zone sprayed with a plume of radioactive isotopes caesium-137 and strontium-90 when the Chernobyl power plant's fourth reactor exploded in 1986.
Alexei Yablokov, a member of the Academy of Sciences, warned that winds could spread contaminants embedded in trees and plants as they succumbed to the inferno.
"Radionuclides may reach places at distances of hundreds of kilometres, depending on the weather," he said. "If the Bryansk region is in flames, they can reach the Novgorod region, Moscow and, in some conditions, eastern Europe."
There were conflicting reports over the extent of the fires in Bryansk. Asked about the gravity of the threat, Gennady Onishchenko, the country's leading public health official, said: "There's no need to sow panic. Everything is quiet there."
But Russia's forestry protection service said it was increasing patrols in the area after around 30 hectares of land went up in flames.
"The situation is complicated, but stable and controllable," an official from the service told Interfax.
Greenpeace played down fears of Chernobyl pollution reaching Moscow, but said the harmful potential of smaller doses of radiation, combined with smog, carbon monoxide and other particles, should not be overlooked.
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