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Mapping Chernobyl fires from space

16 April 2020

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With an outbreak of wildfires recently threatening the closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service has been activated and the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission has imaged the fires and smoke, and mapped the resulting area of burned ground.

Thankfully, heavy rain yesterday means that most of the flames have now been extinguished. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian authorities also reported yesterday that there was still more than 500 firefighters, 124 fire engines and several helicopters still working to contain the smouldering.

In 1986, the nuclear site suffered a disastrous meltdown that spread radioactive fallout across Europe. The concerns were that the fires could reach the defunct nuclear reactor and a storage site for radioactive waste, and that there could be a risk of exposure to increased radiation from the burning of contaminated forest and soil.

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