Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory agency says monitors measuring radiation levels around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, have stopped working.
In a statement Monday, the agency also said there are no more firefighters available in the region to protect forests polluted by decades of radioactivity as the weather warms. The plant was taken over by Russian forces on February 24.
According to Monday’s statement, the combination of several risks could mean a “significant deterioration” of the ability to control the spread of radiation not only in Ukraine, but beyond the country’s borders in the coming weeks and months.
The Chernobyl plant management team said Sunday that 50 staff members who had worked tirelessly since taking control of Russia have been replaced.
Ukraine told the International Atomic Energy Agency that about half of the staff “finally” were able to return home on Sunday after working on site for nearly four weeks, said the agency’s director general, Rafael Grossi.
Those who left were replaced by other Ukrainian personnel, Mr Grossi said in a statement late Sunday.
“It is a positive development – albeit long overdue – that some Chernobyl staff members have now been replaced and returned to their families,” Grossi said.
“They deserve our full respect and admiration for working in these extremely difficult circumstances. They were there for a long time. “I sincerely hope that the remaining staff can also be replaced soon.”
On February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Moscow troops took over the Chernobyl complex, the site of the 1986 nuclear meltdown that caused the worst disaster of a nuclear reactor in history.
About 100 technical staff members worked surrounded by armed guards to maintain the complex.
Mr Grossi, who had expressed deep concern for the welfare of Ukrainian staff, “welcomed the news of the partial staff rotation,” the agency said.
“Before today’s rotation, the same working group had been in place since the day before Russian forces entered the area,” he added.
It is unclear why Russian soldiers took control of Chernobyl, where the destroyed reactor is kept under strict supervision inside a concrete and lead sarcophagus, and the other three reactors are being shut down.
In 2017, the reactor was one of several Ukrainian targets hit by a massive cyber attack thought to have originated in Russia, which briefly pulled its radiation monitoring system off the grid./VOA
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