A day after Moscow vowed to stem attacks on Ukrainian cities – a promise that has yet to be fulfilled – Russian forces appear to be withdrawing from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This comes just days after looters apparently raided one of the site’s radiation monitoring labs and made off with radioactive material.
The site of the 1986 nuclear disaster has no active reactors but serves as Ukraine’s nuclear waste facility. About 20,000 spent assemblies, each containing about 130 kg of nuclear fuel, are in cooling ponds filled with water. Others are stored in underground facilities. Also on the site is a building the size of an airplane hangar, covering the remains of the reactor that exploded in 1986. Both the ponds and dome require electricity to keep the still radioactive material within safe.
After Russian troops marched into Chernobyl for the first time at the end of February, the plant suffered a five-day power outage. Radiation monitoring, ventilation and lighting all had to be shut down to reduce the load on the backup diesel generators. 211 technical workers were held at the site and worked non-stop for nearly a month before finally being allowed to rotate on March 21.
Well, after that AFP, a US official said that Russia has begun repositioning some of its troops, which appears to include moving them from Chernobyl to neighboring Belarus. “We think they’re going [but] I can’t tell you they’re all gone.” The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Russian troops have surrendered control of Chernobyl, with two troop convoys leaving the site and a third leaving the nearby town of Slavutych, where many Plant workers live.
A few days earlier said Anatolii Nosovskyi, the director of the Institute for Safety Issues of Nuclear Power Plants science that radioactive isotopes used to calibrate instruments, as well as radioactive waste, were stolen from one of Chernobyl’s laboratories. However, this is not a cause for concern, explained nuclear engineer Bruno Merk from the University of Liverpool, UK, in New scientist. The material is not the right type to make nuclear weapons. And it’s not enough to make a dirty bomb – a device that combines radioactive material with conventional explosives.
The fate of “strong sources of gamma and neutron radiation” and samples from the destroyed reactor at another laboratory are unknown, as Nosovskyi said he lost contact with the facility.
When Russian troops first entered the 30 km wide exclusion zone around Chernobyl, sensors detected a 10-fold increase in gamma radiation. Experts speculated that this was probably due to heavy military vehicles kicking up clouds of radioactive dust – but it remained unclear exactly what happened.
Now, two Chernobyl workers told Reuters they saw soldiers walking through the red forest without protective gear. The forest is one of the most contaminated areas in the world. It is named for the color of the pine trees that died as a result of the radiation released in 1986.
The soldiers “had no idea what facility they were in,” according to a Chernobyl official. “When they were asked if they knew about the 1986 disaster … they had no idea.”
Another Chernobyl worker called entering the forest without protective gear “suicidal” due to the risk of inhaling highly radioactive soil particles. According to Yaroslav Yemelianenko, who conducts tourist trips to the exclusion zone, several are Russian soldiers were taken to a hospital in Belarus. The IAEA said it could not confirm reports that Russian soldiers had been exposed to high doses of radiation.
The soldiers were probably only going for a check-up because the radiation dose from walking unprotected in the woods is too low to cause acute illness, explains Claire Corkhill, a radioactive materials researcher at the University of Sheffield, UK tweeted. Nuclear waste expert Cheryl Rofer estimated that it would probably take 57 years for a human in that area to receive a lethal dose of radiation.