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Russian wildfires reach nuclear disaster zone

world Updated: Aug 12, 2010 15:56 IST

Wildfires in Russia have reached areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, raising concern among people that radioactive material could be released into the air.

Russia's Federal Forestry Agency said around 3,900 hectares in the zone from the 1986 disaster have been affected by the raging forest fires, that have killed at least 52 people so far.

Officials, meanwhile, maintained till Wednesday that firefighters had combated fires in the zone. But later, a forest official said the incidents could not be denied, the Daily Telegraph reported.

"There are maps of the nuclear contamination, there are maps of the fires," said the official in the affected Bryansk region, bordering Ukraine and Belarus. "Anyone can put the two together. Why deny this information?"

Large forest areas in Bryansk and neighbouring areas were contaminated when a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The incident happened during a test April 26, 1986, spewing radioactive clouds over much of western Russia and northern Europe.

Senior officials, however, denied there was a risk to public health.

"There is no reason for panic," Alexei Bobrinsky, the forestry agency's deputy director said.

Irina Yegorushkina, of the emergencies ministry, said experts tested the air after at least six wildfires took place in Bryansk, but concluded there had been no increase in radiation levels.