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Global Economy

Russia's troops in Chernobyl: radioactivity increased 20-fold

On the day Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Russian soldiers seized the area of the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Increased radioactive radiation was then detected in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant. Data from monitoring stations showed that radiation levels had risen 20-fold on Thursday, according to Ukrainian authorities. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, however, there were no increased values.

'In the vicinity of the reactor you normally get a dose of around 3 units microsievert every hour – now it's 65,' University of Sheffield nuclear expert Prof Claire Corkhill told the BBC. "That's about five times more than you would get on a transatlantic flight."

Raised radioactive dust

According to the expert, the most likely explanation for the increased radiation levels is that radioactive dust was stirred up by the increasing movement of people and vehicles in the 4,000 square kilometer Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. According to the expert, the measured radiation is not alarmingly high.

Fighting was reported before the Russian troops took over the area.

There are also video recordings that apparently show tanks near Chernobyl.

The Chernobyl reactor explosion in 1986 triggered the "worst possible accident" (GAU) and spread a radioactive cloud across Europe.

The non-profit organization SAFECAST also considers the thesis of the unusual "traffic volume" that released the radioactivity to be likely. Shortly after the Russian troops marched in, however, the radioactivity monitoring system failed. Safecast wrote on Twitter: "The entire network stopped reporting data on February 25 at 1 a.m. Ukrainian time. (…) The system appears to be offline. However, between midnight and 1 a.m. on February 25, data was transmitted multiple sensors readings that had returned to normal."

"Value measured by Russia always normal"

SAFECAST also reports on the statement from the Russian Defense Ministry, but writes: "In our experience, radiation levels are always "normal" when Russia monitors them. They are criminally unreliable."

Why do Russian troops want to control Chernobyl?

Some military experts have a very simple answer to the question of what the Russian units are doing in Chernobyl and why they want to control the area around the damaged nuclear reactor. Chernobyl is on the direct route from Belarus to Kiev – that's why the region has strategic importance.

Massive Russian troops had been stationed in Ukraine's neighboring country, which is allied with Moscow, for weeks.

However, other experts assume that Vladimir Putin could use the highly symbolic location as a "threatening backdrop" to the West.

The damaged reactor is shielded by a so-called sarcophagus, which was only completely completed in 2019 and was created with international help. Before the corona pandemic, Ukraine had also attracted disaster tourists to Chernobyl.

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