Forest fires spark Chernobyl radiation leak fear

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The Independent Online

Emergency helicopters were surveying forest fires in the vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear plant Thursday to make sure they don't spread to the high-radiation isolation zone around the site of the world's worst nuclear accident.

Emergency helicopters were surveying forest fires in the vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear plant Thursday to make sure they don't spread to the high-radiation isolation zone around the site of the world's worst nuclear accident.

No fires were registered within the zone, which covers parts of Ukraine and Belarus, and the radiation level around the Chernobyl plant was reported normal, emergency officials said.

Radiation levels in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and the Belarusian capital Minsk were also reported within the normal range.

Recent rumours of forest fires within the 18-mile closed zone surrounding the plant sparked fears that the blazes were kicking up radiated debris from the 1986 nuclear explosion.

Ukraine's Emergency Situations Ministry said that four grass fires were registered and extinguished on Wednesday in the Polisskyi and Ivankivskyi regions between Kiev and Chernobyl.

The fires were outside the isolation zone, but helicopters were monitoring their spread while emergency officials were working to extinguish them, the ministry said. Kiev is about 60 miles south of the nuclear plant.

A spokesman for Belarus' Emergency Ministry, Kirill Danilov, reported 16 small peat bog fires within(36 miles of the plant. He said the number was lower than in previous years, and was much lower than the number of fires in other Belarusian regions, blamed on a spell of dry weather and strong winds.

"The situation is under control. Radiation levels are normal," Danilov said.

Fires are common in the dense forests in the region in the warmer months.

Officials at the Chernobyl plant said that its only working reactor No. 3 was functioning normally today. A malfunction in a turbo generator forced the plant to halve output Monday, but the problem has been fixed.

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