By now you’ve probably seen the viral video of the sandwich-making fox living inside the exclusion zone around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986. If you haven’t, here it is.
The radiation zone stretches 19 miles in all directions from the plant and is considered to be unsafe for humans for at least 20,000 years. About 300 people refused to evacuate and live inside the area, along with a wide variety of animals in addition to the sandwich fox. Workers on the New Safe Confinement structure are only allowed to work five-hour days for 30 days and then must leave for at least 15 days. Since 2011, journalists like the fox feeders and tourists have been allowed in the zone for short visits.
The radiation hasn’t stopped Bionerd, the pseudonym for an anonymous scientist and vlogger who has posted videos of herself walking inside reactor buildings, getting bitten by “radioactive ants” and eating apples growing on trees near the epicenter. Bionerd is conducting research – measuring radiation levels – and assures her Internet fans that she gets exposed to more radiation in a hospital emergency room.
Unfortunately, the fun with foxes and fruit may end soon. A forest fire started on April 27 inside the exclusion zone within 12 miles of the plant. One estimate put the size of the blaze at 400 hectare or about 1.5 square miles. Firefighters were brought in immediately and Ukraine Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk issued this statement on April 28:
As of 1245 (05:45 EDT) the fires has been localized and contained. The radiation levels are normal.
That’s not reassuring to nuclear safety expert John H. Large, who has visited the site previously.
Brush fires and forest fires were the greatest concern in terms of the means by which you can disperse a secondary radiological impact from the original dissipation that occurred in 1986. In the exclusion zone and further away you have an area that has been abandoned for farming, abandoned for man management. That means you’ve got lots of brush and young wood growing out of control, and that means there’s a big fuel load to have a fire.
As expected, there is disagreement as to whether the smoke from the fire, which can spread hundreds of kilometers away, is contaminated with radiation. Investigation may be difficult because authorities suspect the fire may have been deliberately set and have tightened security in the exclusion zone.
The fox and Bionerd are safe for now, but what about the rest of us?