Ukraine reports higher Chernobyl radiation after Russians capture plant

The agency said the change was due to the movement of heavy military equipment in the area.

The remnants of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The remnants of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Ukraine said on Friday it had recorded increased radiation levels from the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a day after the site was captured by Russian forces, due to military activity causing radioactive dust to rise into the air.

The former power plant was captured by Russian forces on Thursday after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office said.

Ukraine's nuclear agency initially said on Friday it was recording increased radiation levels from the site of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Experts at the agency did not provide exact radiation levels but said the change was due to the movement of heavy military equipment in the area lifting radioactive dust into the air.

Russia had captured the area earlier and had said the levels were normal, and had sent paratroopers to guard the plant.

Read more on the Ukraine-Russia War:

 A geiger counter measures a radiation level at a site of fire burning in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, outside the village of Rahivka, Ukraine April 5, 2020. (credit: YAROSLAV YEMELIANENKO/REUTERS) A geiger counter measures a radiation level at a site of fire burning in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, outside the village of Rahivka, Ukraine April 5, 2020. (credit: YAROSLAV YEMELIANENKO/REUTERS)

"Radiation starts to increase. It is not critical for Kyiv for the time being, but we are monitoring," the interior ministry said.

The still-radioactive site of the 1986 nuclear disaster lies some 100 kilometers from Kyiv.

Presidential advisers meanwhile said President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was still in the capital Kyiv.

"The base scenario of Russia's special operation is clear. The sole goal - to take Kyiv and kill Ukraine's authorities, President Zelenskiy personally," said an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podolyak.

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor is the site of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

Centered near the city of Pripyat in what is now Ukraine, the disaster occurred after a safety test went wrong, making it unstable and leading to a chain reaction, exploding the reactor core. The nuclear cloud spread for around nine days throughout the region. To this day, only one other nuclear disaster in history – the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan – is comparable, both being the only incidents to be rated the highest number, seven, on the International Nuclear Event Scale, though Japan's then-prime minister Naoto Kan noted the disaster was different as it did not release as large of an amount of radiation, according to Reuters. 

The exact death toll of the disaster is unknown, as while two people were killed in the original explosion itself, many more died throughout the following months from radiation poisoning and many more throughout the following years of cancer. According to a 2006 article published in the academic journal Nature, the death toll in the USSR alone was estimated to reach around 4,000, while extending into Western Europe, that number could be even higher, with some studies ranging from 16,000 to even 60,000. 
This disputed death toll is due to how widespread the radiation's effect was, as well as how long it will last. 
The incident has had a significant impact on the world, creating debate on the use of nuclear power and safety management. It has also become a major part of global cooperation, and since 1986, the United Nations and major NGOs have launched over 230 different research and assistance projects in the fields of health, nuclear safety, rehabilitation, environment, production of clean foods and information, according to the UN's website. 

But while the disaster itself is long gone, the damage continues to this day. As noted by Nature, many areas around the reactor and beyond are still affected by the radiation. The most prevalent type of radioactive isotope in the disaster, caesium-137, has a half-life of around 30 years, so much of the areas left abandoned by the blast could get better in the coming years, but many areas could be radioactive for centuries to come, like the 30 kilometer exclusion zone around the reactor itself.

Other problems persist as well, such as wildfires, as the forests contaminated by the radiation are prone to catching fire during dry seasons. As a result of this and winds, these fires can spread the radiation further. In 2020, these fires spread to the point that some radiation actually reached Kyiv, but not to the extent that it would threaten human life, according to the UN's nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency.