Radiation levels increased at the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine authorities said on Friday, warning that the seizure of the nuclear plant by invading Russian troops could have “terrible consequences”.
The still-radioactive site of the 1986 nuclear disaster lies some 130km from capital Kyiv.
“In the terrible hands of the aggressor, this significant amount of plutonium-239 can become a nuclear bomb that will turn thousands of hectares into a dead, lifeless desert,” said Ukraine’s environmental protection ministry.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered his troops to invade Ukraine and on the same day they seized the stricken Chernobyl nuclear power plant in one of the most radioactive places on Earth.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a 2,600-square kilometre area of forest lying between the Belarus-Ukraine border and Kyiv.
The environment ministry said the Russian troops’ takeover of the zone could have grave consequences.
However, experts at Ukraine’s state nuclear agency said the radiation-level change was caused by the movement of heavy military equipment in the area, lifting radioactive dust into the air.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the radiation at the site did not pose any danger to the public.
“The readings reported by the regulator – of up to 9.46 microsieverts per hour – are low and remain within the operational range measured in the Exclusion Zone since it was established,” the IAEA said.