Russians disturb radioactive dust in Chernobyl’s Red Forest

The "Red Forest" zone bordering Chernobyl
Chernobyl's highly radioactive "Red Forest" zone

Russian soldiers who seized the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster drove their armoured vehicles without radiation protection through a highly toxic zone called the “Red Forest”, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust, workers at the site told Reuters.

The two sources said soldiers in the convoy did not use any anti-radiation gear. The second Chernobyl employee said that was “suicidal” for the soldiers because the radioactive dust they inhaled was likely to cause internal radiation in their bodies.

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Ukraine’s state nuclear inspectorate said on February 25 there had been an increase in radiation levels at Chernobyl as a result of heavy military vehicles disturbing the soil. But until now, details of exactly what happened had not emerged.

The two Ukrainian workers who spoke to Reuters were on duty when Russian tanks entered Chernobyl on February 24 and took control of the site, where staff are still responsible for the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel and supervising the concrete-encased remains of the reactor that blew up in 1986.

Both men said they had witnessed Russian tanks and other armoured vehicles moving through the Red Forest, which is the most radioactively contaminated part of the zone around Chernobyl, around 100km north of Kyiv.

The regular soldiers one of the workers spoke to when they worked alongside them in the facility had not heard about the explosion, he said.

Asked to comment on the accounts from Chernobyl staff, Russia’s defence ministry did not respond.

The Russian military said after capturing the plant that radiation was within normal levels and their actions prevented possible “nuclear provocations” by Ukrainian nationalists. Russia has previously denied that its forces have put nuclear facilities inside Ukraine at risk.

The Red Forest got its name when dozens of square kilometres of pine trees turned red after absorbing radiation from the 1986 explosion, one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

A vast area around Chernobyl is off limits to anyone who does not work there or have special permission, but the Red Forest is considered so highly contaminated that even the nuclear plant workers are not allowed to go there.

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Valery Seida, acting general director of the Chernobyl plant, was not there at the time and did not witness the Russian convoy going into the Red Forest, but he said he was told by witnesses that Russian military vehicles drove everywhere around the exclusion zone and could have passed the Red Forest.

“Nobody goes there … for God’s sake. There is no one there,” Seida told Reuters.

Read the full article here.

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