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IPPNW Germany Press Release

Medical organization warns against trivialization

04/20/2020 IPPNW Germany warns against playing down the forest fires in Ukraine. Heavily diluted clouds of smoke have also reached other parts of Europe. The doctors' organisation points out that there is no threshold below which radioactivity would be harmless. Since April 3, more than 46,000 hectares of forest and grassland have been burning in the massively radioactively contaminated exclusion zone south-west of the Chernobyl reactor ruins. On April 13, flames reached up to 500 meters from the sarcophagus, which is supposed to shield the most dangerous nuclear waste in the region.

Over the weekend, the situation in the capital Kiev came to a head. The authorities ordered the population to stay in their apartments, hang wet cloths from the windows and drink a lot, as toxic clouds of smoke were moving through the city. According to the IQAir organization, Kiev was the city with the world's most dangerous air quality on Saturday: the Air Quality Index (AQI) was between 360 and 499, with a normal value of less than 50. Values over 300 are considered "dangerous".

The Deputy Director of the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Centre (UHMC) Anatoliy Prokopenko reported significantly increased concentrations of suspended solids, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and formaldehyde in Kiev on 17 and 18 April. At the same time it was emphasized that the radiation readings in the capital would not exceed the permitted limits. Measurements of the European radioactivity monitoring programme REMon have so far not shown any increase in gamma radiation in Kiev. However, according to the French radiation protection authority IRSN, the measuring devices are only designed for increases in the local dose rate of approx. 1,000,000 μBq/m3.

Significantly more sensitive measurements of the caesium-137 activity in the ambient air have meanwhile been published by the Central Geophysical Observatory in Kiev. These showed an increase in caesium-137 concentration from about 6 μBq/m3 to 700 μBq/m3 on April 10-11 - more than a hundredfold increase. The director of the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Centre, Mykola Kulbida, called this increase "microscopic", the mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, even went so far as to claim that "in Kiev there is only smoke, no radioactivity".

The State Agency for Restricted Zones of Ukraine published air readings from the Chernobyl reactor site showing caesium-137 concentrations of 180,000 μBq/m3. At the same time the values must be seen in context: after the Super-GAU of Chernobyl, caesium-137 concentrations of 10,000,000 μBq/m3 were measured in Bavaria. The French radiation protection authority IRSN writes that in the first 10 days of the forest fires alone, i.e. before the re-emergence last week, around 200,000,000 Bq of radioactivity was released by the fires and spread throughout Europe.

Dr. med. Alex Rosen, Co-Chairman of IPPNW Germany commented: "The satellite images clearly show how the smoke from the forest fires in the exclusion zone spreads over the Ukraine, even directly over the capital Kiev. Other parts of Europe have now also been reached by the heavily diluted clouds of smoke. It is important to understand that there is no threshold below which radioactivity would be harmless. Any additional radiation exposure should be avoided if possible. The radiation levels measured may not yet pose any relevant danger to the population, but this can change abruptly as soon as more highly contaminated forest areas burn, the storage sites for radioactive materials scattered across the exclusion zone are reached or even the sarcophagus that encloses most of the highly radioactive remains of the nuclear meltdown. If the weather conditions and wind direction are unfavourable, the rest of Europe, even Germany, could be affected by the radioactive clouds. The current attempts to play down the forest fires are therefore irresponsible and dangerous. It is important to act now before the fires spread further. Now is the time for quick aid and international assistance."

Last week, IPPNW Germany called on the German government to organise unbureaucratic support for Ukraine at EU level so that the fires can be brought under control quickly. In the meantime, the Federal Government has promised aid deliveries worth 230,000 euros, including 80 dosimeters for measuring radioactivity, 15 kilometres of fire hoses and a special tanker for forest fires.

Additional resources:

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

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