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US aid arrives as Russia says no nuclear risk from fires

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Aug 14, 2010
The first planeloads of US aid for the Russian wildfire tragedy arrived in Moscow on Saturday as officials said a fire raging close to a top nuclear facility did not risk causing an atomic catastrophe.

Officials said that nationwide the area alight with fires was almost a quarter that of a week ago, although there appeared to be little progress in reducing the size of the blaze close to Russia's main nuclear research centre in Sarov.

Two US Air Force C-130 planes carrying aid for Russia touched down early Saturday at a Moscow airport, followed by a charter flight from California ordered by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, state television and the foreign ministry said.

Two additional C-130 flights were expected in the "next days", the Russian foreign ministry said. Another charter was also due in the coming week.

"We will always remember this gesture, this arm that was extended to us at a very difficult time," the deputy head of the international department of the Russian emergencies ministry, Valery Shuikov, said at the Vnukovo airport.

According to the US State Department, the total value of the support from Russia's Cold War-era ex-foe is around 4.5 million dollars.

The emergencies ministry said there were still 480 fires in Russia covering an area of 56,000 hectares (138,500 acres), a quarter of the area of almost 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) reported at the peak of the crisis and down around 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) from Friday.

"At the current moment the situation with the wildfires has improved considerably," said Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu in a statement on the ministry's website.

"The weather has not helped us. Everything has been done by the emergency services, the interior ministry, the defence ministry and volunteers."

Along with Sarov, fires have also raged close to another research centre in the town of Snezhensk and the Mayak nuclear reprocessing site, both in the Urals, but the authorities appear to have controlled those fires.

"There are no threats from the forest fires to potentially dangerous sites. Potentially dangerous sites are reliably protected," said Shoigu.

The head of Russia's Rosatom nuclear agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, told reporters that the fire that has been menacing the Sarov centre, 500 kilometres (310 miles) east of Moscow, for the past two weeks does not risk causing a nuclear disaster.

"We can say today for sure that there is no nuclear risk, no radioactive threat and that there is not even an ecological threat on Sarov territory," Kiriyenko told Russian media.

"We pushed back an attack from the west side two weeks ago. Now the fire is coming from the east... and it continues to burn. Nevertheless, the situation on the eastern side has ceased to be critical," he said.

Kiriyenko said radioactive and explosive materials had been removed a second time from the Sarov centre because of the threat of the flames, which approached the perimetre of the installation on Friday before being brought turned back.

The Mordovia region emergencies ministry said the fire in a neighbouring nature reserve that threatens Sarov, a town still closed to foreigners as in Soviet times, covers 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) and is still not under control.

Thousands of firefighters have been sent to the reserve to put out the flames.

Kiriyenko said that if the winds shift the Sarov centre could come under threat once again from the fires in the nature reserve.

"Until (the fires are) put out there, Sarov remains at risk," he said.

The fires have been sparked by the worst heatwave in Russia's history, which destroyed one-quarter of its crops and last week blanketed Moscow in a toxic smog that has raised major concern for public health.

There have also been fears the fires could stir up particles on land in western Russia still contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster but officials have said radiation is normal throughout the country.

related report
Fire still near Russian nuclear site as smog returns
Russia on Sunday reported success in reducing fires burning close to its main nuclear research centre but in Moscow shifting winds brought the acrid smell of smog back to the capital.

Amid the worst ever heatwave in its history, Russia has for days battled to cut back hundreds of blazes across the country, including flames in a nature reserve near its top nuclear research centre in Sarov, a town in central Russia still closed to foreigners as in Soviet times.

The secret nuclear research centre straddles two regions -- the Nizhny Novgorod and Mordovia regions -- and the emergency ministry said on Sunday the number of fires in both regions had been reduced.

"Despite the continuing hot weather, man is prevailing over the wildfires. There has been a firm trend of cutting the number of wildfires in the region for the first time in the past days this week," the emergency ministry's Volga regional branch said in a statement.

The area of forest fires in the Nizhny Novgorod region has been significantly reduced over the past day, allowing officials to focus efforts on the fires in the state nature reserve close to the nuclear centre in Sarov, Mikhail Turkov, a spokesman for the ministry's Volga regional branch, told AFP.

At the same time, two fires were still burning in the village of Popovka and the village of Pushta in the nature reserve where more than 1,200 people and over 151 pieces of equipment were involved in extinguishing the flames.

The fire in Popovka still covers 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) but it has been partially contained and the area of the most active blaze covers just 30 hectares (75 acres), the ministry said.

The fire near the village of Pushta covering 200 hectares (500 acres) has been contained, the ministry said.

There were 498 fires in Russia covering an area of 53,500 hectares (132,200 acres), down from 56,000 hectares (138,500 acres) the day before, a quarter of the area of almost 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) reported at the peak of the crisis.

Authorities managed to reduce an area of wildfires around Moscow by almost 25 hectares (62 acres) over the past day and there were seven burning peat bogs over an area of a mere eight hectares (20 acres), a Moscow-based emergency ministry spokeswoman, Yelena Chernova, told AFP.

But the acrid smell returned to Moscow as shifting winds brought back smog from the neighbouring Ryazan and Vladimir regions in central Russia where three major peat bogs were burning.




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WEATHER REPORT
Russia steps up fire battle as crops wither
Moscow (AFP) Aug 12, 2010
Russia on Thursday stepped up efforts to halt wildfires near its main nuclear research site, as President Dmitry Medvedev said a quarter of crops had been lost in a record heatwave. Fears were also raised that that fires could stir up radioactive particles on land still contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster but the authorities warned against any panic. Medvedev reported suc ... read more

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