Underneath a gargantuan concrete sarcophagus in Ukraine lies one of the most dangerous situations the human race has ever experienced.
I’m speaking, of course, about the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, whose spectacular 1986 meltdown sent a cloud of radioactive ash hundreds of miles into Europe and beyond. Given the nature of radioactivity, and the volatile events that made Chernobyl a household name, the only way in which the world could contain the threat still posed by the nuclear meltdown was to encase the entire area in a massive concrete tomb.
Now, just miles away, massive wildfires are burning, threatening to reignite concerns over airborne radioactivity throughout the region.
American firefighters are now heeding the call.
U.S. Forest Service experts have been working with their counterparts in Ukraine to help reduce the danger posed by wildfires near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
Earlier this year, forest fires in the radiation-contaminated area near the Chernobyl nuclear plant sparked concern about the potential release of contaminants.
The 1,000-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was established after the April 1986 disaster at the plant that sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe. The zone is largely unpopulated, although about 200 people have remained despite orders to leave.
In a recent blog post, the U.S. Forest Service explained that Alan Ager, a research forester from the agency’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, had been working on the problem of wildfires in the area contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster.
Apparently, this isn’t all that unusual of an issue.
Blazes in the Chernobyl area have been a regular occurrence. They often start when residents set dry grass on fire in the early spring — a widespread practice in Ukraine, Russia and some other ex-Soviet nations that often leads to devastating forest fires.
Researchers used the modeling system to identify the best locations for what are known as “fuel breaks” — areas where fires can be cut off from the “fuel” they need to grow and spread radionuclides.
Smoke can carry radioactive particles into the atmosphere, where it will be pushed by powerful currents for hundreds or thousands of miles, creating a global threat.