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IPPNW Germany Press Release

Doctors' organisation worries about health impacts

04/17/2020 Since April 3, the forest in the immediate vicinity of the damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been burning. The medical organisation IPPNW Germany is concerned about the health of the people in the region. According to Greenpeace Russia, more than 40,000 hectares are said to have been affected by the fires in the meantime, and the fire has reached up to one kilometre to the sarcophagus, which encloses most of the highly radioactive remains of the nuclear meltdown of April 1986. IPPNW Germany calls on the Federal Government to organize unbureaucratic support for Ukraine at EU level so that the fires can be brought under control quickly and precautions can be taken in future to minimize the risk of forest fires.

After limited rainfall at the beginning of this week, the fire brigade had provisionally succeeded in pushing back the fires, so that there was now only talk of isolated smouldering fires. However, high wind speeds and drought on Thursday again led to outbreaks of large-scale forest fires. With strong winds blowing in a south-easterly direction, the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, with its 2.8 million inhabitants 100 kilometres south of Chernobyl, is also potentially affected by the radioactively contaminated clouds of smoke. The government registered four temporary increases in background radiation in the city and on 15 April advised residents not to leave their homes because of the smoke from the forest fires in the morning hours, but so far denies that there is any danger from radioactivity.

IPPNW Germany co-chairman and Chernobyl expert Dr. Alex Rosen commented today on the situation in Ukraine, which has escalated again:

"The radioactive exclusion zone around Chernobyl has been burning for exactly two weeks. Yesterday, the more than 1,000 firefighters again suffered severe setbacks in their fight against the fires. When the government in Kiev now says that the radioactive smoke does not pose a danger to the public, this is first of all to be understood as wishful thinking and a reassuring measure for the population," said Dr. Rosen.

Reliable measurement data have not yet been published. We assume that substantial quantities of radioisotopes are currently being mobilised. The forest in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl is still heavily contaminated with radioactive substances 34 years after the nuclear meltdown.

Radioisotopes such as strontium-90 and caesium-137 have half-lives of 28 and 30 years. The volatile particles can settle in the body after inhalation and lead to cancer. In the past, forest fires in Chernobyl have repeatedly transported radioactive isotopes beyond the boundaries of the exclusion zone. Man-made climate change contributes to the risk of forest fires through long dry periods.

Our special concern at present is for the men and women of the fire brigade, but of course also for the people in the areas affected by the radioactive fallout in the border triangle of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. For many of you, the satellite images of radioactive clouds over your countries may bring back memories of the time at the end of April 34 years ago. We fear that even on the anniversary next weekend, the fires may not yet be completely under control.

These fires pose a danger to people and nature far beyond the borders of Ukraine. As in 1986, the fate of the population depends on the direction of the wind. It is as if Chernobyl, just before the anniversary of the nuclear meltdown, wants to remind us once again how permanent the damage and dangers of nuclear energy can be."

Read the original press release in German: https://www.ippnw.de/presse/artikel/de/aerzteorganisation-sorgt-sich-um-gesu.html

Contact person:
Angelika Wilmen, press spokeswoman of IPPNW Germany, Phone: +49 (0)30-69807415, e-mail: wilmen[at]ippnw.de

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