Ukraine War: Russians caused Chernobyl nuclear radiation levels to rise - report

Russian troops entered storage facilities and dug trenches in the irradiated Red Forest leading to radiation that will cause them to experience sickness, state-run nuclear agency Energoatom said.

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

Russian troops were exposed to high levels of radiation during their time occupying the Chernobyl nuclear power plant during the invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported citing the state-run nuclear agency Energoatom.

Russian troops seized control of Chernobyl on February 24, the first day of their invasion of Ukraine, before finally leaving the site at the end of March. No Russian troops were present at the site as of April 1. During their time occupying the plant itself and the surrounding exclusion zone, they had entered storage facilities and dug trenches in the irradiated Red Forest. This, in turn, caused them to be exposed to severe radiation and to spread irradiated dust around the site.

"They went to the Red Forest and brought radioactive material back with them on their shoes," Ukrainian soldier Ihor Ugolkov told CNN. "Other places are fine, but radiation increased here because they were living here."

"They went everywhere, and they also took some radioactive dust on them [when they left]," he added.

The exposure to radiation will cause Russian troops to begin experiencing radiation sickness, Energoatom said.

 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. (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. (credit: YAROSLAV YEMELIANENKO/REUTERS)

The Russian soldiers also looted two research labs on the site that were studying radiation and radioactive materials, taking ionizing radiation and other irradiated materials, Interfax reported.

According to Energoatom, the soldiers stole and damaged 133 sources of radiation that are equivalent to 700 kilograms of radioactive waste. Currently, the whereabouts of the stolen items is unknown.

Located some 30 km. from Kyiv, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was host to the worst nuclear disaster in history when it experienced a catastrophic meltdown in 1986. 

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 is comparable: the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan. Both are the only incidents to be rated at seven, the highest number on the International Nuclear Event Scale, though Japan's then-prime minister Naoto Kan noted that the disaster was different as it did not release as large an amount of radiation, according to Reuters. 

The exact death toll of the Chernobyl disaster is unknown. While two people were killed in the original explosion, many more died during the following months from radiation poisoning and even 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 about 4,000. Extending into Western Europe, the number is higher, with some studies ranging from 16,000 to even 60,000. 

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.

Cesium-137, the most prevalent type of radioactive isotope released in the disaster, 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, as the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the reactor itself.

A view shows burning trees and a road covered in heavy smoke in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (credit: STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE OF UKRAINE IN KIEV REGION/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)A view shows burning trees and a road covered in heavy smoke in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (credit: STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE OF UKRAINE IN KIEV REGION/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

However, the situation is now worse because Russian troops moved around the area so much, causing dust to spread and levels to rise. The 10 square kilometer Red Forest, already one of the most radioactive locations on Earth, has now seen "abnormally high" levels of radiation, according to Energoatom.