Ukrainian firefighters are struggling to contain a blaze raging near Pripyat, in the contaminated area heavily hit by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, as a wall of fire creeps dangerously close to its abandoned nuclear power plant.
Due to strong winds on Monday, the flames crossed over a firebreak and reached Yanov railway station near the town of Pripyat, the agency in charge of the exclusion zone said in a statement. Maps show that the station is located just three kilometers (1.9 miles) away from the ill-fated power plant.
Yaroslav Emelianenko, a member of the public council at that agency, described the situation as “critical” and posted photos of surreal orange-colored smoke coming from the burning forest on his Facebook page.
Chernobyl, which was the site of the worst nuclear disaster in human history in 1986, has again found itself in an emergency situation, piling even more headaches on Ukraine amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The fire in the 30km (18.6-mile) exclusion zone around the nuclear power plant broke out over a week ago, with police saying it was arson. A suspect has been arrested.
Some 390 rescue workers, 90 units of specialized hardware and six aircraft have been deployed to the site.
Despite all their efforts, the forest and dry grass keep burning, with the blaze getting alarmingly close to the nuclear power plant and to the sites where highly radioactive waste is stored.
However, a high-ranking official at the Emergencies Ministry, Vladimir Demchyuk, gave reassurances that “currently, there’s no threat to the nuclear power plant, the storage sites of used [nuclear] fuel and other critical infrastructure in the exclusion zone.”
Radiation levels in the area have exceeded the norm by more than 16 percent, but authorities insist that it doesn’t pose any risk to the capital Kiev, located 134km (83.2 miles) away.