Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he would like to hear a report on raging forest fires in the Chornobyl zone as "the public must know the truth."
"I'm closely monitoring the situation in the Chornobyl zone. I know firefighters are doing their best. I am thankful for their courage. I'll hear a report on the fires from Chairman of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine Mykola Chechotkin tomorrow [April 14]," Zelensky said on Facebook late on April 13. "Conclusions will follow soon after. The public must know the truth and be safe."
Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Gerashchenko, in turn, assured that there was no change in the radiation background at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, in the Chornobyl exclusion zone or beyond.
According to him, spent nuclear fuel storage facility No. 2 in the exclusion zone is a huge, reinforced concrete structure surrounded by a fence, there are still empty tanks inside, they are made of monolithic reinforced concrete. Spent nuclear fuel from operating Ukrainian nuclear power plants will be transferred there in future.
"Spent nuclear fuel storage facility No. 1, where spent fuel from the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, which was decommissioned in 2000, is stored, is located in the area of the NPP itself. It is completely safe there now. Any fires are excluded," Gerashchenko wrote on Facebook.
According to him, the Pidlisne storage facility used for spent nuclear waste is also located in a place relatively safe from forest fires and represents fireproof reinforced concrete structures. He noted that the forest belt was specially cut down around the storage facility to avoid the threat of fire, and the distance to green spaces is more than 100 meters.
As UNIAN reported earlier, forest fires in the Chornobyl exclusion zone began on April 4, covering 20 hectares then. On April 7, the area affected by the fire expanded to 35 hectares.
According to the TSN TV news service, at least 12 abandoned villages, old cemeteries, forests and swamps have been destroyed there. The fire is said to be now just one kilometer from the defunct Chornobyl nuclear power plant and poses a radiation risk.
Director of the Chornobyl Tour operator Yaroslav Yemelianenko, writing on Facebook, described the situation as critical. He said the fire was rapidly expanding and had reached the abandoned town of Pripyat, two kilometers from where "the most highly active radiation waste of the whole Chornobyl zone [Pidlisne] is located." He called on officials to warn people of the danger, Reuters said.
Satellite images taken by NASA Worldview and seen by Reuters showed the two fires had extended far into the exclusion zone.
Police say they have identified a 27-year old local resident who they accuse of deliberately starting the blaze.