Fire raging near Ukraine’s Chernobyl poses radiation risk, say activists

UNTV News   •   April 14, 2020   •   760

A huge forest fire in Ukraine that has been raging for more than a week is now just one kilometer from the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant and poses a radiation risk, Greenpeace Russia warned on Monday (April 13), citing satellite images.

Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Service said it was still fighting the fires, but that the situation was under control.

Aerial images of the 30 km (19 mile) exclusion zone around the plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, showed scorched, blackened earth and the charred stumps of still smouldering trees.

The Emergency Situations Service said radiation levels in the exclusion zone had not changed and those in nearby Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, “did not exceed natural background levels.”

Greenpeace Russia said the situation is much worse than Ukrainian authorities believe, and that the fires cover an area one thousand times bigger than they claim.

On April 4 Ukrainian authorities said the blaze covered an area of 20 hectares, but Greenpeace cited satellite images showing it was around 12,000 hectares in size at that time.

“According to satellite images taken on Monday, the area of the largest fire has reached 34,400 hectares,” it said, adding that a second fire, stretching across 12,600 hectares, was just one kilometre away from the defunct plant.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on those claims.

Rashid Alimov, head of energy projects at Greenpeace Russia, said the fires, fanned by the wind, could disperse radionuclides, atoms that emit radiation.

“A fire approaching a nuclear or hazardous radiation facility is always a risk,” Alimov said. “In this case we’re hoping for rain tomorrow.”

Chernobyl tour operator Yaroslav Yemelianenko, writing on Facebook, described the situation as critical.

He said the fire was rapidly expanding and had reached the abandoned city of Pripyat, two kilometres from where “the most highly active radiation waste of the whole Chernobyl zone is located.” He called on officials to warn people of the danger.

Satellite images taken by NASA Worldview and seen by Reuters showed the two fires had extended far into the exclusion zone.

The fires, which follow unusually dry weather, began on April 3 in the western part of the exclusion zone and spread to nearby forests.

Police say they have identified a 27-year old local resident who they accuse of deliberately starting the blaze.

It remains unclear if the person, who has reportedly confessed to starting a number of fires “for fun,” is partly or fully responsible. (Reuters)

(Production: Sergiy Karazy, Dmitriy Turlyun, Margaryta Chornokondratenko)

19 people killed in massive forest fire in southwestern China

UNTV News   •   March 31, 2020

A massive forest fire in southwestern China has killed 19 people, according to a state media report on Tuesday (March 31).

Eighteen firefighters and a local guide were confirmed dead, from a group of 21 firefighters who went to fight the blaze that had spread over more than 1,000 hectares of land near Xichang, a city in Sichuan province.

The fire started on a farm on Monday (March 30) afternoon and quickly spread to nearby mountains due to strong winds, according to local reports.

Flames and heavy smoke were seen drifting into the sky, posing a threat to a nearby town — including a gas storage station about 70 meters away from parts of the fire.

“This place (the gas station) is by far the most dangerous place in this forest fire in Xichang,” said Zhang Shanhu, a member of the local fire and rescue team.

Police have evacuated more than 1,200 people from the area, and local authorities have organized over 2,000 people to fight the blaze. (Reuters)

(Production: Irene Wang)

Ukraine dusts off Soviet-era ventilator designs to help fight coronavirus

UNTV News   •   March 30, 2020

Ukraine is dusting off Soviet-era ventilator designs that lay forgotten in a mothballed military factory for years in a bid to ramp up domestic production of equipment that could help in the fight against the coronavirus.

In response to an urgent appeal by hospitals to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for ventilators, some of the country’s wealthiest men chipped in to buy machines from abroad.

But representatives of state defense conglomerate Ukroboronprom, which runs the state-run Burevisnyk plant in Kiev, are leading an initiative for Ukraine to boost domestic output based on technology developed there long ago.

Deputy Director General of Ukroboronprom, Mustafa Nayyem, told Reuters that a computer with the relevant technical information had disappeared and the engineers that designed the ventilators were retired or dead.

Eventually, officials tracked down a man who knew where printouts for the designs were kept in the factory on yellowing paper. He was working in a local supermarket.

The plant is in no fit state to restart production, so Ukroboronprom will share the technology with interested private companies and has offered to help certify a new product quickly and provide production facilities, Nayyem said.

“We will give everyone access to this documentation because we understand that the crisis is now,” Nayyem said.

Some 20 years ago around 6,000 people worked at the Burevisnyk factory, producing hardware including radar systems for submarines. It also had a sideline making ventilators once used to treat Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan.

Falling demand since the end of the Soviet Union and a lack of state funding has pushed the plant into bankruptcy.

A handful of employees remain, including its acting director and security guards. The power and heating were cut off five years ago. The plaster on the walls is cracked and old machinery lies covered in dust.

Its last big government order for ventilators came in 2008, the plant’s Acting Director Vitaly Khodzitsky told Reuters. The plant used a bank loan to produce them, but the government money did not arrive and the plant never recouped its costs.

For a population of about 40 million people, Deputy Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said there were about 1,117 ventilators ready for coronavirus patients.

Governments around the world are scrambling to procure more of the breathing devices that can blow air and oxygen into the lungs. They are crucial for the care of people with lung failure, which can be one of the complications suffered by patients with severe COVID-19, the disease coronavirus causes.

The number of coronavirus cases has reached 480 in Ukraine, with eleven deaths. The country is one of Europe’s poorest and health spending per capita is a fraction of its western peers. (Reuters)

(Production: Sergiy Karazy, Margaryta Chornokondratenko, Natalia Zinets)

75 hectares of forest land in Tublay, Benguet engulfed in fire

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 24, 2020

About 75 hectares of forest land was engulfed in flames during a forest fire in Tublay, Benguet.

Authorities estimated that the fire started on February 19 in Sitio Nalseb and spread in Sitio Akiqui, Losok up to Sitio Sapuan.

Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) Tublay Senior Fire Officer 4 Clarence Todyog said the fire trucks were not able to easily make its way through the forest which made it difficult for firefighters to control the fire.

The fire department continues to investigate the cause of the fire but Todyog said it might due to a cooking fire that was left unattended.

Charita Anipew, one of the residents in the area, said there were people who lit up a fire to prepare their food.

Authorities declared fire out in Barangay Ambassador on Monday (February 24).

“Iyong una naman natin na estimate na nangyaring sunog noong February 19 is more or less 75 hectares (Our initial estimate damage during the forest fire on February 19 is more or less 75 hectares),” Todyog said.

The Municipal Fire Department assured there were no residents affected by the forest fire.—AAC (with reports from Grace Doctolero)

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