Threat of Radioactive Smoke and Chernobyl Comparisons

The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the dangers associated with the spread of Russia’s wildfires to areas still contaminated by the fallout from Chernobyl. The threat of radioactive smoke spreading across the region is a real one, say environmentalists. Meanwhile others are drawing comparisons between the Kremlin’s reaction to the current disaster and Soviet officials’ policy of denial shortly after the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.

Russian officials have denied the existence of the fires, and Russia’s chief medical officer Gennady Onishenko accused Greenpeace of “panic-mongering,” but the organization insists that its conclusion is based on solid evidence and official sources.

Russia’s state forestry service, Roslesozashchita, admitted in a statement posted on its website Wednesday that, as of Aug. 6, there were 28 forest fires covering about 270 hectares burning in the Bryansk region alone, which is considered the most radioactively contaminated part of Russia.

“We’re not talking about a repeat of the Chernobyl catastrophe, but thedanger is not insignificant either,” says Vladimir Chuprov, head ofGreenpeace Russia’s energy program. “The worst scenario is thecontinuing spread of radioactive particles through the area. The dangeris first of all to firefighters and local people, but the contaminationcan spread with smoke to new areas”…

…”Our authorities have reacted to this in much the same way Sovietleaders did when Chernobyl erupted: They suppressed the truth and justkept repeating that there is no problem,” says [Vladimir Slivyak,cochair of the environmental group Ecodefense]..”When I heard (chiefmedical officer) Onishenko say, ‘Everything’s OK’ in the affectedregions, it just took me back to Soviet times. We have plenty ofevidence that it’s not all OK. This is not the way to deal with badnews.”

It’scomparisons like this and the public’s increasingly bitter critique ofthe government’s handling of the wildfires that are promptingspeculations about the possible political fallout. Simon Shusterexplores this issue in his Time magazine piece Will the Wildfires Stoke Political Change in Russia?