Military action in Chernobyl can be dangerous to people and the environment

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The following essay is reprinted with permission from Conversationan online publication that covers recent research.

The site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine has been surrounded for more than three decades by a 1,000-square-mile (2,600-square-kilometer) exclusion zone that prevents people from accessing it. April 26, 1986 Chernobyl reactor number four melted down as a result of human erroremitting huge amounts of radioactive particles and gases into the surrounding landscape – 400 times more radioactivity to the environment than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Exclusion Zone, created to contain radioactive contaminants, also protects the region from human exposure.

Where is Chernobyl?

The former Chernobyl nuclear power plant was destroyed in 1986 as a result of an accident that made 1,000 square miles (2,600 square kilometers) uninhabitable.

Location of Chernobyl
Credit: Conversation, CC-BY-ND

Apart from a few industrial zones, most of the exclusion zone is completely isolated from human activities and looks almost normal. In some areas, where radiation levels have declined over time, plants and animals have returned in significant numbers.

Some scientists have suggested that the area has become a paradise for wildlife others are skeptical this opportunity. The species can be deceptive, at least in areas with high radioactivity where bird, mammals and insect the size and diversity of populations are much lower than in the “clean” parts of the exclusion zone.

I spent over 20 years works in Ukraine, as well as in Belarus and Fukushima, Japanto a large extent focused on radiation exposure. In recent days, I have been asked many times why Russian troops entered northern Ukraine through this nuclear wasteland and what the environmental consequences of hostilities in the area may be.

As of early March 2022, Russian troops controlled the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Why invade through Chernobyl?

Looking back, the strategic benefits of basing hostilities in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone look obvious. This is a large, uninhabited area connected by a paved highway directly to the Ukrainian capital, with few obstacles or human development along the way. The Chernobyl zone is adjacent to Belarus and thus protected from attack by Ukrainian troops from the north. The industrial zone of the reactor site is, in fact, a large parking lot suitable for thousands of invading army vehicles.

The main power plant is also located on the site of the power plant electrical network switching network for the whole region. From here in Kiev you can turn off the light, although the power plant itself has not generated electricity since 2000. the last of Chernobyl’s four reactors was shut down. Such control over energy supply is likely to be of strategic importance, although Kyiv’s electricity supply is likely to also be provided through other nodes of Ukraine’s national grid.

The reactor site is likely to provide significant protection against air strikes, given the likelihood that Ukrainian or other forces risk fighting on a site containing more than 5.3 million pounds (2.4 million kilograms). radioactive spent nuclear fuel. That’s it highly radioactive material produced by a nuclear reactor during normal operation. Direct exposure to spent fuel pools or storage facilities in dry power plant barrels can release far more radioactive material into the environment than the initial melt and explosions in 1986, and thus cause a global environmental catastrophe.

Environmental risks on earth in Chernobyl

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is one of the most radioactively contaminated regions on the planet. Thousands of acres around the reactor site have ambient radiation doses in excess of typical background levels thousands of times. In areas of the so-called Red Forest near the power plant you can get a dangerous radiation dose in just a few days of exposure.

Radiation monitoring stations in the Chernobyl zone recorded the first obvious impact of the invasion on the environment. Sensors installed by the Ukrainian Chernobyl Ecocenter in case of accidents and forest fires showed sharp jumps in radiation levels along major roads and near reactor facilities. after 9 p.m. February 24, 2022. Then the Russian invaders came to the territory of neighboring Belarus.

As the increase in radiation levels was most evident in the immediate vicinity of the reactor buildings, there were concerns that the protective structures were damaged, although the Russian authorities denied such an opportunity. The network of sensors is sharp stopped reporting early on February 25 and not resumed until March 1, 2022, so the full extent of unrest in the region due to troop movements is unclear.

If in fact it was dust generated by vehicles and not damage to protective structures that caused an increase in radiation, and provided that the increase lasted only a few hours, it unlikely to cause long-term concernfor the dust will settle again as soon as the troops advance.

But the Russian military, like the Ukrainian power plants that have held hostageundoubtedly inhaled some of the dust. Researchers know the dirt in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone may contain radionuclides including cesium-137, strontium-90, several plutonium isotopes and uranium, and americium-241. Even at very low levels, they are all toxic, carcinogenic or both by inhalation.

Possible consequences further

Perhaps a greater environmental threat to the region is due to the possible release into the atmosphere of radionuclides stored in soil and plants in the event of a forest fire.

Such fires have recently increased in frequency, size and intensity, probably due to climate change, and these fires have thrown radioactive materials back into the air and and dispersed them far and wide. Radioactive fallout from forest fires may pose the greatest threat from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to human populations over the region’s winds, as well as to wildlife in the exclusion zone.

Currently, a huge number live in the area dead trees and debris that can serve as fuel for the fire. Even in the absence of hostilities, military activity – like thousands of soldiers in transit eating, smoking and lighting fires to keep warm – increases the risk of forest fires.

This it is difficult to predict the effects of radioactive fallout on people but implications for flora and fauna were well documented. Chronic exposure to even relatively low levels of radionuclides has been associated with a wide range of wildlife health effects, including genetic mutations, tumors, eye cataract, sterility and neurological disordersalong with abbreviations in population size and biodiversity in areas with high pollution.

There is no “safe” level when it comes to ionizing radiation. Danger to life is directly proportional to the level of exposure. If the current conflict escalates and damages radiation isolation facilities at Chernobyl or at any of the 15 nuclear reactors at four other sites across Ukraine the magnitude of environmental damage will be catastrophic.

This article was originally published on Conversation. Read original article.

Military action in Chernobyl can be dangerous to people and the environment

Source link Military action in Chernobyl can be dangerous to people and the environment