The Human Health Effects of Radioactive Smoke from a Catastrophic Wildfire in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone: A Worst Case Scenario

Aaron Hohl, Andrew Niccolai, Chad Oliver, Dmytro Melnychuk, Sergiy Zibtsev, Johann Georg Goldammer, Volodymyr Gulidov


The health implications of a potential catastrophic wildfire in the Ukrainian portion of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) on populations living and working beyond the CEZ are assessed.  The complete analysis consists of four linked sub-models: a source model, a transport model, an exposure model, and a cancer risk model.  As a worst case scenario, it is assumed that a fire would consume the biomass of pine forests and former agricultural lands and release any associated radionuclides into the atmosphere. The transport model assumes that the wind would blow primarily towards Kiev throughout the fire event.  The exposure model estimates adult and child (1 year old) external exposures and doses via the five exposure pathways: (1) external irradiation caused by immersion in a radioactive cloud during plume passage; (2) inhalation of radionuclides during plume passage; (3) external irradiation caused by deposited radionuclides on soil during the first year after wildfire; (4) ingestion of radionuclides in contaminated food during the first years after the wildfire, and (5) inhalation of resuspended radionuclides during the first year after the wildfire. Estimates of radionuclide releases, transport, exposures, and doses are based on conservative assumptions and consequently are likely to overestimate potential exposures to members of the general public during an actual wildfire event.  Excluding the food ingestion pathways, calculated doses to populations at distances 30 km or greater from the release point are less than the critical thresholds that would require evacuations. However, Ukrainian law would require limiting ingestion of certain foodstuffs to avoid exposure through ingestion. The cancer risk model assumes that exposure through contaminated foodstuffs would be avoided. 

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