Preventing a Nuclear Forest Fire

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Ilustration by Jennifer Daniel

If you still shudder at memories of the 1986 Chernobyl debacle, here’s a chilling thought: A fire in the forest surrounding the nuclear plant could be as devastating as another explosion. For the past two decades the woods have suffered from neglect: The state forest agency is cutting back only a few trees and stopped removing dead wood entirely, and locals haven’t been picking through the foliage for fuel wood, berries, and mushrooms. That’s left the forest overcrowded and ripe for a catastrophic fire whose radioactive smoke could cause a health disaster in Kiev and other parts of Ukraine, ultimately costing millions of dollars in economic losses as well. Environment: Yale (Spring 2007) reports that Ukrainian and American researchers are crunching data on the forest and using specialized computer programs to model possible outcomes, which they hope will raise awareness–and money–to deal with the problem. Simply cutting down the trees won’t do the trick; if the forest dies, the radioactive materials might move into the groundwater. What is needed, researchers say, is investment in a viable forest-management plan.

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