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Title: Wildfires in Chernobyl-contaiminated forests and risks to the population and the environment: A new nuclear disaster about to happen?

Author: Evangeliou, Nikolaos; Balkanski, Yves; Cozic, Anne; Hao, Wei Min; Moller, Anders Pape;

Date: 2014

Source: Environment International. 73: 346-358.

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: Radioactive contamination in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia after the Chernobyl accident left large rural and forest areas to their own fate. Forest succession in conjunction with lack of forest management started gradually transforming the landscape. During the last 28 years dead wood and litter have dramatically accumulated in these areas, whereas climate change has increased temperature and favored drought. The present situation in these forests suggests an increased risk of wildfires, especially after the pronounced forest fires of 2010, which remobilized Chernobyl-deposited radioactive materials transporting them thousand kilometers far. For the aforementioned reasons, we study the consequences of different forest fires on the redistribution of 137Cs. Using the time frequency of the fires that occurred in the area during 2010, we study three scenarios assuming that 10%, 50% and 100% of the area are burnt. We aim to sensitize the scientific community and the European authorities for the foreseen risks from radioactivity redistribution over Europe. The global model LMDZORINCA that reads deposition density of radionuclides and burnt area from satellites was used, whereas risks for the human and animal population were calculated using the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model and the computerized software ERICA Tool, respectively. Depending on the scenario, whereas between 20 and 240 humans may suffer from solid cancers, of which 10­170 may be fatal. ERICA predicts insignificant changes in animal populations from the fires, whereas the already extreme radioactivity background plays a major role in their living quality. The resulting releases of 137Cs after hypothetical wildfires in Chernobyl's forests are classified as high in the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). The estimated cancer incidents and fatalities are expected to be comparable to those predicted for Fukushima. This is attributed to the fact that the distribution of radioactive fallout after the wildfires occurred to the intensely populated Western Europe, whereas after Fukushima it occurred towards the Pacific Ocean. The situation will be exacerbated near the forests not only due to the expected redistribution of refractory radionuclides (also trapped there), but also due to the nutritional habits of the local human and animal population.

Keywords: Chernobyl accident, forest fires, redistribution, radionuclides, risks

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.

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Evangeliou, Nikolaos; Balkanski, Yves; Cozic, Anne; Hao, Wei Min; Moller, Anders Pape. 2014. Wildfires in Chernobyl-contaiminated forests and risks to the population and the environment: A new nuclear disaster about to happen? Environment International. 73: 346-358.

 


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