What is the nuclear risk in Ukraine? Radiation expert Vadim Chumak speaks from Kyiv about his fears.

Hospitals in Ukraine have been bombed. Do radioactive substances in those buildings pose a risk?

That’s what we need to consider, because in this war, many incredible things have become real.

There are two medical sources of radiation. There is a machine, such as an X-ray machine or a linear accelerator, used to treat cancer. They emit some radiation, but only if they are turned on. Once you close it, it’s just a piece of metal.

But another source uses isotopes such as cobalt or cesium, which are used in nuclear medicine and radiation therapy, for example positron emission tomography (PET). They are physically safe in the hospital, which means they are safe from theft. But they are not protected from being hit by bombs.

If reconciled with them, we could see something like the Goiania Accident in Brazil in 1989. Then, some people stole a radiotherapy device from an abandoned hospital site and smashed it to sell parts as scrap metal. They found this tiny ampoule full of cesium, which glowed blue at night. It’s a long story, but a single destroyed source of radiation has contaminated most of Goiania. Four died, 20 needed hospital treatment, and 249 were infected. 85 homes were significantly contaminated, and 200 people living in these homes were evacuated. So this type of scenario needs to be considered. And that is without thinking about the misuse of resources.

What kind of evil uses?

The spent fuel assemblies, for example, are very good materials for making dirty bombs, which is a scenario for a terrorist attack. A more technical term is the radiological dispersion device. If you connect such radioactive sources to the device and detonate it, it will contaminate a large area with radioactive material. There are many such radiological scenarios on the table now.

How are nuclear power plants in Ukraine now monitored?

Radiation monitoring networks were set up at each nuclear power plant, but they are now disconnected, so Ukrainian and international agencies no longer receive real-time data from them. The Ukrainian government and authorities no longer have access to the network, which was sophisticated and operational before the invasion.

There is also a nationwide remote monitoring network for radiation detection. I think even the points near the plant are disabled, or at least cut off from this normal network. If something really bad was going to happen, it would be noticed by a more distant monitor. It’s not real-time control કલા hours will pass before it comes to mind. Until it was reported by people under Russian control.

Has there been a problem so far?

What I do know from official reports is that immediately after the invasion, before the connection was cut off, there was an almost five-fold increase in the radiation dose rate at the Chernobyl site. The most plausible explanation is that the tanks disrupt the radioactive material on the ground.

The Chernobyl excluded area is a restricted area. Some tours are allowed, and are very safe if you follow the rules, but can still be dangerous. All they did was move the tank back and forth. This was a highly contaminated area following the 1986 accident, and some highly contaminated areas were purposely covered with soil and vegetation to prevent radiation from re-suspension.

Tanks can immediately disrupt these heavily contaminated layers of soil. Those people [Russian soldiers] Not only do they disregard the law, but they also disregard any reasonable radiation safety regulations. Now they have inhaled this dust and have radiation in their body. It is stupid from an ecological point of view and from a global point of view. At the local level it is very dangerous and stupid. A five-fold increase in dose would present a local problem.

If something happens now, how do you measure pollution?

There are two or three types of devices that are really important at the time of an accident. But in Ukraine now we have a lot of devices obsolete.

After the Chernobyl accident, around 1987 and 1991, we went through a period of accumulation of radiation monitoring capacity. Since then, interest in Chernobyl has been very low. As a result, many of our dosimetry devices date back to 1991 or 1992. The typical lifetime for this type of equipment is 10 years. Now, they are over 30 years old. The equipment that is still working is not in very good condition. As a result, we really need it [new equipment]We have made some official requests for such equipment, but I have also requested colleagues in the US.

What devices do you need?

One type is called a survey meter. They are radiometers, like the Giger-Mલરller tube. They have a display that shows you the dose rate, so you can see which areas are at risk and which are not. There are also some specialized dose-rate meters, which are useful for measuring contamination of clothing, hair and surfaces after an emergency.

The so-called whole body monitors are specially calibrated to measure internal contamination, for example, those who drink local milk or inhale contaminated air. The individual dosimeter looks like a badge. They are small, maybe 10-gram devices that are attached to people’s clothes. They are sent to laboratories to determine the dose that the person has been exposed to.

Can we learn a lesson from Chernobyl?

Not really. After the Chernobyl tragedy, everything was under complete control. It was possible to collect and recruit a thousand buses to evacuate the population. It was a completely different story.

Now we have battles — some territories are out of control, and others are under fire. I cannot imagine that such a migration process is possible. We do not have the equipment for such migration, and we do not know where to evacuate. Evacuation routes could be attacked and bombed, just like what is happening in Mariupol.

My recommendation, if such an emergency is to occur, is to seek refuge as long as possible before receiving special orders from the authorities. Don’t move. Don’t try to escape. Empty shelter. It doesn’t have to be underground – apartment blocks also provide adequate protection against radiation if you stay away from windows.

You’re out of Kiev. Where do you live now

I am close to Kiev, about 25 kilometers away, in a country house. Fortunately, the area is reasonably safe and I am able to communicate with Kiev. I live an hour’s drive from Kiev, so I can go to Kiev if necessary. I am in standby mode – I will return to my workplace if my qualifications or work require me. That was the reason we decided not to run away.

I am optimistic about the success of the Ukrainian army against the Russians. Ukraine will not simply be conquered. Leaving or forgiving is not an option.

Our children have two 4 year old daughters, so we moved them to a safe place. But the elderly live here. I am old enough to sacrifice my life if need be.

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