Forest fires rage near Chernobyl nuclear plant

KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Forest fires raged yesterday in the contaminated area near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but officials insisted there is no radiation threat.

Hundreds of firefighters backed by aircraft have been battling several forest fires around Chernobyl since last week. They managed to contain the initial blazes, but new fires are now raging close to the decommissioned plant.

Volodymyr Demchuk of Ukraine’s state Emergencies Service insisted that the situation is under control.

“There is no threat to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, waste fuel storage or other critical facilities,” he said.

The emergencies service said radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, about 100 kilometres south of the plant, were within norms.

In this photo taken from the roof of Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a forest fire is seen burning near the plant inside the exclusion zone. PHOTO: AP

Activists warned, however, that the blazes were getting dangerously close to waste storage facilities. Yaroslav Yemelyanenko, a member of the public council under the state agency in charge of the closed zone around the plant, said one fire was raging within two kilometres from one of the radioactive waste depots.

“The situation is critical,” he said on Facebook.

Last week, officials said they tracked down a person suspected of triggering the blaze by setting dry grass on fire in the area. The 27-year-old man said he burned grass “for fun” and then failed to extinguish the fire when the wind caused it to expand quickly.

On Monday, police said that another local resident burned waste and accidentally set dry grass ablaze, triggering another devastating forest fire.

They said he failed to report the fire to the authorities.