Chernobyl radiation levels are still 'abnormal', atomic watchdog warns

Chernobyl radiation levels are ‘abnormal’ since Russian troops occupied the site, atomic watchdog warns

  • The UN atomic watchdog said Russian occupation was ‘very, very dangerous’
  • Radiation levels continue to fluctuate day by day after trenches were dug up 
  • Kremlin forces seized the nuclear plant on the first day of the invasion

Chernobyl’s radiation levels are still ‘abnormal’ after the Russian occupation of the site, the UN atomic watchdog warned today on the anniversary of the nuclear disaster. 

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Putin’s capture of the plant was ‘very, very dangerous’ after troops dug up trenches and risked power failure at one of the world’s most radioactive sites.

Grossi said during a visit to the site today: ‘The radiation level, I would say, is abnormal.

Trenches and firing positions sit in the highly radioactive soil adjacent to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Russian troops took over the site on February 24, the first day of the invasion of Ukraine (pictured: tanks on the plant)

‘There have been some moments when the levels have gone up because of the movement of the heavy equipment that Russian forces were bringing here, and when they left.

‘We are following that day by day.’

Speaking as he arrived at the sarcophagus that covers the nuclear reactor’s radioactive remains, he said the takeover by Russian forces had been ‘absolutely abnormal and very, very dangerous’.

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

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

Thousands of tanks and troops rumbled into the forested exclusion zone around the plant, churning up highly contaminated soil

Ukrainian officials have said that Russian soldiers may have been exposed to radiation after digging fortifications in ‘many places’ at the site and stirring up clouds of dust with their armoured vehicles.

On April 26, 1986, an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction destroyed the reactor in an accident that was initially covered up by the Soviet authorities.

Many hundreds died though the exact figure remains disputed.

Eventually, 350,000 people were evacuated from a 19-mile radius around the plant, an exclusion zone that remains uninhabited, apart from some elderly residents who returned despite an official ban.

The Chernobyl power station’s three other reactors were successively closed, with the latest shutting off in 2000.

The Russians mostly dug their trenches in the Red Forest, which takes its name from the colour of the pine trees that died after absorbing high levels of ionizing radiation. It remains one of the most contaminated sites in the world. 

Ukrainian forces patrol the area near the nuclear plant after Russian troops withdraw from the site

The occupation is said to have risked a greater nuclear reaction than the 1986 disaster. 

Approximately 169 Ukraine National Guard Soldiers who guarded the site were locked in an underground nuclear bunker for a month with no access to natural light, fresh air or information, but they were gone when Ukrainian forces regained control of the site.

It is not known where they are now, but Ukrainian authorities suspect they may have been taken to Russia via Belarus.

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

Russian soldiers bunked in the earth within sight of the massive structure built to contain radiation from the damaged nuclear reactor. 

Russia’s invasion marks the first time that occupying a nuclear plant was part of a nation’s war strategy, said Rebecca Harms, former president of the Greens group in the European Parliament, who has visited Chernobyl several times.

She called it a ‘nightmare’ scenario in which ‘every nuclear plant can be used like a pre-installed nuclear bomb.’

WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE 1986 CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR DISASTER?

On April 26, 1986 a power station on the outskirts of Pripyat suffered a massive accident in which one of the reactors caught fire and exploded, spreading radioactive material into the surroundings.

More than 160,000 residents of the town and surrounding areas had to be evacuated and have been unable to return, leaving the former Soviet site as a radioactive ghost town.

 A map of the Chernobyl exclusion zone is pictured above. The ‘ghost town’ of Pripyat sits nearby the site of the disaster

The exclusion zone, which covers a substantial area in Ukraine and some of bordering Belarus, will remain in effect for generations to come, until radiation levels fall to safe enough levels.

The region is called a ‘dead zone’ due to the extensive radiation which persists. 

However, the proliferation of wildlife in the area contradicts this and many argue that the region should be given over to the animals which have become established in the area – creating a radioactive protected wildlife reserve.

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