Radiation watchdog chief condemns Russia’s ‘very, very dangerous’ occupation of Chernobyl

Chernobyl radiation levels have returned to normal after the Russian occupation, the UN’s atomic watchdog said today on the anniversary of the nuclear disaster, condemning the seizure “very, very dangerous” site by Putin.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Putin’s capture of the plant was “abnormal and dangerous” after troops dug trenches and risked a power failure on one of the most radioactive sites in the world.

But he said increased radiation around the plant appeared to have returned to expected levels, nearly a month after Russian troops evacuated the area from northern Ukraine.

Grossi said during a site visit today: ‘The level of radiation I would say is normal.

“There were times when levels increased due to the movement of heavy equipment that Russian forces were bringing here, and when they left.

“We follow this day by day.”

Ukrainian officials said earlier this month that Russian soldiers may have been exposed to radiation after digging fortifications in “numerous places” at the site and kicking up clouds of dust with their guns. armored vehicles.

He came amid reports that a contingent of Russian soldiers tasked with digging trenches and moving heavy equipment in the infamous ‘Red Forest’ had been taken to Belarus to be treated for symptoms consistent with poisoning to radiation.

Trenches and firing positions lie in the highly radioactive ground adjacent to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

The damaged Chernobyl reactor is now encapsulated in concrete and a thick steel shell to prevent further radioactive leaks

The damaged Chernobyl reactor is now encapsulated in concrete and a thick steel shell to prevent further radioactive leaks

Russian troops retook the site on February 24, the first day of the invasion of Ukraine (pictured: tanks at the factory)

Russian troops retook the site on February 24, the first day of the invasion of Ukraine (pictured: tanks at the factory)

Russian troops took control of the site on February 24, the first day of the invasion of Ukraine, taking Ukrainian soldiers prisoner and detaining civilian personnel.

The occupation lasted until the end of March and raised global fears of nuclear leaks.

Drone footage taken from the exclusion zone around the abandoned nuclear power plant appears to have confirmed reports that Russian troops dug trenches and fortifications in some of the most irradiated parts of the region.

The images, which were geotagged and shared widely on social media, showed mounds of disturbed earth and dug-in fortifications on the outskirts of the Red Forest, a few kilometers west of the Chernobyl power plant.

After the drone camera zooms out of the abandoned Russian positions and unfolds, the ominous steel containment dome that encapsulates the destroyed reactor can be seen in the distance.

The Red Forest sits firmly inside the inner exclusion zone around Chernobyl and was the hardest hit area when the No. 4 reactor exploded in 1986, causing the world’s worst nuclear accident.

Thousands of tanks and soldiers rumbled through the wooded exclusion zone around the factory, churning up highly contaminated soil

Thousands of tanks and soldiers rumbled through the wooded exclusion zone around the factory, churning up highly contaminated soil

Drone footage taken from the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant appears to have confirmed reports that Russian troops dug trenches and fortifications in some of the most irradiated parts of the region.

Drone footage taken from the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant appears to have confirmed reports that Russian troops dug trenches and fortifications in some of the most irradiated parts of the region.

Large tracts of land in and around the Red Forest were heavily polluted with radioactive smoke and dust as a result of the disaster, and many trees and wild animals in the forest died.

The site got its name when dozens of square kilometers of trees that did not die from the explosion turned red after absorbing incredible doses of radiation.

In the years following the accident, the land was razed and covered with fresh soil and sand before new trees were planted, but the radioactive particles still remain trapped under the topsoil of the forest.

The area has become a natural wildlife sanctuary in recent years as all kinds of flora and fauna have thrived undisturbed by humans, and the power plant still maintains a number of employees to do maintenance and security work. – although they were regularly alternated before the Russian invasion. .

But experts believe Russian troops who returned to the exclusion zone to dig trenches and fortifications may have suffered significant doses of radiation when exposed to the irradiated dust and soil that had remained sealed underground for decades.

This map of the exclusion zone around Chernobyl shows how deep Russian trenches were dug near the site of the 1986 disaster, a stone’s throw from Pripyat – the abandoned town where factory workers lived with their families before the explosion

Drone footage that revealed Russian fortifications in the Red Forest pans to the left and captures the ominous steel dome that contains the destroyed nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant

Drone footage that revealed Russian fortifications in the Red Forest pans to the left and captures the ominous steel dome that contains the destroyed nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant

Thirty-six years ago today, on April 26, 1986, an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction destroyed one of Chernobyl’s reactors in an accident initially concealed by Soviet authorities.

A total of 28 staff and rescue workers died of radiation poisoning in the days following the blast, along with two workers who were killed instantly in the blast.

But studies in the years following the disaster revealed a dramatic increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer among the population living near the plant.

According to a report by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), nearly 20,000 cases of thyroid cancer were reported in children and adolescents exposed at the time of the accident between 1991 and 2015.

Increased awareness of cancer risk from radiation exposure and improved detection methods are two of the factors associated with the startling figure, but at least 5,000 cancer cases were directly attributable to children drinking milk fresh containing radioactive iodine from cows that had eaten contaminated grass. in the first weeks after the accident.

The other three reactors of the Chernobyl power plant were successively closed, the last having been shut down in 2000.

Ukrainian forces patrol the area near the nuclear power plant after the withdrawal of Russian troops from the site

Ukrainian forces patrol the area near the nuclear power plant after the withdrawal of Russian troops from the site

About 169 Ukrainian National Guard soldiers guarding the site were locked in an underground nuclear bunker for a month without access to natural light, fresh air or information, but they were gone when Ukrainian forces regained control of the site.

Their current whereabouts are unknown, but Ukrainian authorities suspect they may have been taken to Russia via Belarus.

Workers kept the Russians away from the most dangerous areas, but the plant was without electricity, relying on diesel generators to support the critical work of circulating water to cool spent fuel rods.

The invasion of Russia marks the first time that occupying a nuclear power plant has been part of a country’s war strategy, said Rebecca Harms, former chair of the Greens group in the European Parliament, who spoke visited Chernobyl several times.

She called it a “nightmare” scenario in which “every nuclear power plant can be used as a pre-installed nuclear bomb”.

  • An earlier version of this article, using a copy from the AFP news agency, said radiation levels at the plant were “abnormal”. This has been changed following a correction by the agency.

Michael A. Bynum