At Chernobyl, scientists measure the disaster after fire record

À Tchernobyl, des scientifiques mesurent le désastre après des incendies record

“This forest will spring up more,” says the scientist Oleksandre Borsouk, walking on the yellow earth, among the trunks of pine trees charred and the smell of burning in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after fire record.

These fires on an unprecedented scale have devastated a quarter of this area, told the AFP Mr. Borsouk, one of the managers of the nature reserve, which occupies the greater part of this vast territory.

Always contaminated by the radiation, this area remained largely derelict surrounds it in a radius of 30 kilometers of the nuclear accident, the theatre in 1986 of the worst nuclear accident in history.

At the beginning of April, forest fires that are reported have taken an unprecedented scale. Encouraged by strong winds and especially the weather is unusually dry, fires have lasted until mid-may, stopping, according to Greenpeace, less than two kilometres from the dome of the containment that protects its damaged reactor.

In spite of the efforts of hundreds of firefighters, more than 66 000 hectares of land (a quarter of the exclusion zone), of which 42 000 ha of forest, have been ravaged. This week, the authorities have for the first time open to the media access to affected areas.

“It was the fire the most important” since the 1986 accident, is Denys Vychnevsky, a scientific manager of the reserve.

If the disaster was not caused, according to Kiev, increase of the radioactivity, it has dealt a hard blow to the local ecosystem, which thrived since the disaster of 1986, followed by the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and the judgment of most human activities.

Heat and drought

“Pine forests have suffered the most,” says Mr. Borsouk. Affected by flames whose temperatures can reach up to “700 to 800 °C”, the trees aged 30 or 40, or even 90 years old is going to continue to die for another “two to three years,” he adds.

If the vegetation will eventually grow back, the pine trees will be naturally replaced by broadleaf trees (birch, aspen…), the more flame resistant, ” explains the scientist, according to which a dozen abandoned villages were also destroyed.

The wildlife has also accused the coup: of big animals – wolves, elk or lynx – have managed to escape, but small mammals such as rabbits as well as snakes have died, ” says Mr. Vychnevsky.

But since the end of the fire, “we are seeing some positive trends”: animals and birds return in the territories affected, adds the biologist.

The fire was caused, according to the police, by a young resident living near the Chernobyl zone, which was said to have set fire to the grass “just for fun”.

But scientists point the finger at climate change, which has led to a winter of unusually hot and dry, with only 63% of precipitation as compared to standard, creating favourable conditions for the spread of the fire.

“In the future, with such changes in the climate, this is going to be a threat to us,” said Mr. Vychnevsky. “It will be necessary to reorganize the entire system of observation, prevention, and emergency response to this kind of fire, own, rather, the united States and in southern Europe,’ he warns.

A reactor of the Chernobyl power plant has exploded on 26 April 1986, contaminant, according to some estimates, up to three-quarters of Europe. The plant, which had remained in business, closed permanently in 2000.

In recent years, the site has also become a major tourist attraction, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from around the world.

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