Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Area Sees Spike in Radiation 16 Times Higher Than Normal After Forest Fire

A forest fire which broke out in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl over the weekend caused a spike in radiation levels, according to authorities.

The blaze, which ignited on Saturday close to the power plant, quickly spread to cover more than 20 hectares, Ukraine's civil protection agency said.

"There is bad news—radiation is above normal in the fire's center," Yegor Firsov, head of the country's ecological inspection service said in a Facebook post on Sunday.

In the post, a video was included showing a Geiger counter with a reading indicating that radiation levels were 16 times higher than normal at the site of the fire, AFP reported.

However, Firsov noted that radiation levels in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, which lies around 60 miles to the south, were normal. Meanwhile, the emergencies service said that people living in nearby areas were not in danger from the radiation spike.

Nevertheless, the service admitted that the increase in radiation levels in some places had led to some "difficulties" for emergency responders when it came to fighting the fire itself.

Authorities dispatched around 90 firefighters, two water-carrying planes and a helicopter to battle the blaze on Saturday.

By Sunday morning the fire was not visibly burning, according to the emergencies service. In addition, there was no further increase of radiation levels in the air.

The emergencies service also reported another smaller fire in the Chernobyl exclusion zone over the weekend which covered around five hectares, according to the Associated Press.

Fires are relatively common in the forests within the roughly-one thousand-square mile Chernobyl exclusion zone, which was created in 1986 following the world's worst nuclear disaster.

The disaster occurred on April 26 of that year after a failed safety test of the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant led to a huge explosion, which released large amounts of radiation into the environment, polluting a vast area of Europe.

The disaster forced tens of thousands of people to relocate from the exclusion zone, although a small number remain to this day after refusing to leave.

Chernobyl exclusion zone fire
This picture taken on April 5, 2020, shows a person holding a Geiger counter at the scene of a forest fire in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, not far from the nuclear power plant. YAROSLAV EMELIANENKO/AFP via Getty Images

The other three reactors at the power plant continued to operate into the next decade until the site was finally closed shut down in 2000 in the face of international pressure, DW reported.

Shortly after the disaster, authorities built a vast "sarcophagus" around the No. 4 reactor as a temporary measure to limit the spread of radiation into the environment.

In 2018, construction was completed on a new structure known as the "New Safe Confinement" or "New Shelter," which is designed to keep the radiation contained for around 100 years as the degraded "sarcophagus is disassembled and decontaminated.

In the subsequent years, it has emerged that a combination of human error and a critical design flaw in the reactor were likely to blame for the nuclear disaster.