Russian troops who had occupied the nuclear power station at Chernobyl may have been exposed to “significant doses” of radiation, Ukraine’s state energy company Energoatom said Friday. The company said it could not determine the degree of radiation exposure the troops may have had, but there were unconfirmed reports that some had been sickened.
“The invaders did not dig anything on the territory of the plant itself, but the thick dust raised by equipment in transit, and the radiation particles in it, may very well have entered the bodies of Russian occupiers through the lungs,” Valerіy Seyda, director of the nuclear power plant, said in a statement.
“Furthermore, no one knows what the invaders were doing in the Red Forest, and it is also possible that they could have received significant doses of radiation when they dug trenches in this forest,” Energoatom said.
The Red Forest is the most contaminated part of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, according to the Reuters news agency, and even Chernobyl staff aren’t allowed to go there.
“A big convoy of military vehicles drove along a road right behind our facility and this road goes past the Red Forest,” one source told Reuters. “The convoy kicked up a big column of dust. Many radiation safety sensors showed exceeded levels.”
The International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) said in a statement on Friday that it was unable to confirm reports that Russian troops were exposed to high doses of radiation while at Chernobyl. Meanwhile, Rafael Grossi, the head of the IAEA, said he would be leading a mission to the plant as soon as possible.
“I will head an @IAEAorg assistance and support mission to the #Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant as soon as possible. It will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to #Ukraine,” Grossi tweeted.
Yevhen Kramarenko, head of Ukraine’s agency in charge of the exclusion zone, said that radiation levels there now appeared to be normal, but that the facilities needed to be checked.
He also said that Russian troops were seen in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl plant on Friday, after Energoatom said Thursday thatitself, which was at the beginning of Russia’s of Ukraine on February 24.
On Thursday, Energoatom said Russian troops had also left a nearby town where people who work at Chernobyl live.
The Russian troops that left Chernobyl were reportedly heading toward Ukraine’s border with Belarus. Earlier this week, U.S. and British officials said Russia was expected to regroup its battered forces in Belarus and other places under its control in order to stage a new offensive in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.