Chernobyl: From radioactive exclusion zone to war zone


Radiation and wildlife expert, Timothy Mousseau, Professor of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, has studied radiation’s impact in wild areas for decades. He enumerates what can go wrong when a site that “is among the most radioactively contaminated regions on the planet” becomes a war zone.

In his article for The Conversation, he states that the defunct Chernobyl facility and surrounding area is appealing to Russian forces for a number of reasons: it is one of the easiest access points to the capital city of Kyiv, with parking lots for large vehicles, and access to a main electrical grid switching network.

Unfortunately, it is also home to more than 5.3 million pounds of highly irradiated reactor fuel which, if hit, could release much more radioactivity than the original 1986 catastrophe, causing “an environmental disaster of global proportions.”

It is also highly contaminated in places and normally subject to forest fires that could release radioactivity stored in the soil and plants. With the increased unrest in the area, there is increased danger of fire. Mousseau has recorded such releases in the past, as massive amounts of dead forest litter helped to fuel such blazes.

In his research, Mousseau has focused on wildlife impacts, including chronic lower-level exposures linked to a a number of different health outcomes including genetic mutations, tumors, eye cataracts, sterility and neurological impairment.

Mousseau concludes that should the Chernobyl site, or any of the other 15 reactors in Ukraine suffer damage to radiation confinement facilities, “the magnitude of harm to the environment would be catastrophic.”

Dr. Mousseau was also interviewed on a local TV station.

Image: Timm Suess – Flickr: Red Forest Hill, CC BY-SA 2.0

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