While efforts continue to extinguish wildfires that have killed more than 50 people in western Russia, a number of the country’s nuclear facilities have found themselves on alert.
The situation has stabilized in 11 out of 14 Russian regions affected by the wildfires, according to Sergei Shoigu, minister for emergency situations. In a report from the Itar-Tass news agency, he said that the situation in three regions, including Nizhny Novgorod, remains difficult.
The ministry of emergency situations (Emercom) reported that, as of 9 August, 247 separate fires had started during the previous day, while 239 had been extinguished. It said that there were now 557 fires burning, including 25 peat fires, covering a total area of 174,000 hectares. The ministry said that over 160,000 people and 26,000 items of fire fighting equipment (including 42 aircraft) were involved in tackling the fires.
Rosenergoatom, the operator of Russia's nuclear power plants, said that all of its plants have continued to safely operate during the heat wave which continues to affect some regions of the country. No plants have so far been directly threatened by the fires. However, the company said that all of its plants have developed and implemented action plans to reduce the likelihood of fires in their vicinity.
Fires have been burning close to some Russian nuclear research facilities. A fire near the Russian Federal Nuclear Centre VNIIEF in Sarov in the Nizhny Novgorod region has now been extinguished, but this effort cost the lives of two military personnel. Ivan Kamensky, deputy director general at Rosatom, said that the radiation situation at Sarov remains normal. All radioactive material had reportedly been removed from the research centre as a precaution.
A fire close to the Snezhinsk nuclear research centre in the Urals has also now been brought under control. The fire started on 7 August and spread quickly to cover an area of 10 hectares. By 9 August, the area cover by fire had been reduced to 5-6 hectares and a statement today from local emergency services said, "The hotspot in the Snezhinsk forest has been extinguished."
Meanwhile, a state of emergency has been declared in the Ozyorsk area of the Chelyabinsk region, home to the Mayak reprocessing complex, some 80 kilometres from the Snezhinsk research centre. Measures to reduce the spread of possible fires in the area, including making fire breaks in the vegetation surrounding the plant, are underway. Yuri Podvintsev, head of defence and emergency services at Mayak, said that there are currently no direct threats to the facility from forest fires but the facility and surrounding areas is being constantly monitored.
The Federal State Unitary Enterprise on Radioactive Waste Management (RosRAO), responsible for dealing with Russia's radioactive waste, said that it was also taking preventative measures to ensure fire safety at its sites and surrounding areas. Andrey Chizhov, head of nuclear and radiation safety at RosRAO, said that the fire situation at its 17 sites and surrounding territory is normal. He added that at each of the regions that fall within the danger zone an additional set of measures have been implemented including ensuring that each site is fully equipped with fire fighting equipment and a good water supply. People and equipment are prepared ready for evacuation in the event of a fire hazard.