Russia says Chernobyl-area radiation normal

Russia is battling the worst heatwave in its millennium-long history.

Moscow: Russia on Thursday insisted that radiation was normal in regions contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster amid concerns forest fires could send a cloud of radioactive particles as far as Moscow.

"We have a full network of monitoring and we carry out frequent observations," the deputy head of Russian state weather forecaster Rosgidromet Valery Dyadyuchenko told the Interfax news agency.

"A worsening of the radiation situation and a growth in the background radiation as a result of a transfer of materials from the fires have not been recorded anywhere in Russia," he said.

Russia`s state forest watchdog on Wednesday admitted wildfires hit hundreds of hectares of land in the western Bryansk region contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, raising fears that buried radioactive particles could be released into the air.

The forest watchdog quoted data from August 06 but Emergency Ministry officials denied there were any fires currently burning in the area.

Russian authorities said there was no reason to panic and played down fears that the fires could create a cloud of radioactive particles by raising contaminated matter out from the soil.

But Alexei Yablokov, a former official on ecological questions at the Russian security council and a founder of Greenpeace in the Soviet Union, told Interfax the particles risked being blown onto Moscow or Eastern Europe.

"The particles could be transferred hundreds of kilometres depending on the weather conditions.”

"If the Bryansk region is on fire, they (the particles) could turn up in the Novgorod region (to the north), in Moscow and in certain circumstances in Eastern Europe," he said.

Also on Thursday, a special firefighting train was sent to join over 3,400 firefighters battling to douse wildfires close to the country`s top nuclear research centre, officials said.

While no blazes had been registered on the territory of the nuclear research centre in Sarov in central Russia itself, a nearby nature reserve has been on fire for around a week.

Authorities on Thursday were boosting firefighting teams to more than 3,400 people to keep the fire from spreading to Sarov, a town in the Nizhny Novgorod region still closed to foreigners as in Soviet times.

The nature reserve is located in nearby region of Mordovia and tree leaves and pine needles on the surface -- and not the trees themselves -- now are burning and smouldering, said Mikhail Turkov, a spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry`s Volga regional branch.

"Two planes and two helicopters are currently circling over Sarov," Turkov said. "Reconnaissance is being constantly conducted from the air."

More than 3,400 people and a firefighting train were involved in putting out the fires, while a second train was currently on its way to the scene. The firefighting trains contain vast amounts of water and special hoses.

A new fire in the area broke out late Wednesday when lightening hit a pine tree, the local Emergencies Ministry said.

A spokeswoman for the Sarov nuclear centre confirmed that there were no fires on the centre`s territory and said its staff was not being evacuated. She declined to give further details.

Two soldiers were killed by blazing trees as they strove to put out a fire close to the centre on Monday.

Russia is battling what experts say is the worst heatwave in its millennium-long history which has affected nearly all areas of life and may shave off one percent from Russia`s gross domestic product, according to some estimates.

Bureau Report

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