Ukraine

Forest Fires a Risk in Chernobyl

Could be a radioactive problem

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Most days Nikolay Ossienko patrols the forests surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, clearing brush and dead trees from the grid of fuel breaks that crisscross the 1,000-square-mile area. But on hot July afternoons, when black thunderheads loom on the horizon, he climbs a rusty ladder 75 feet up a rickety fire tower. When he spots smoke, he radios the six other towers to pinpoint the location, then trucks off to the blaze.

"Our number one job is to save the forest from fire," said Ossienko, a burly, blue-eyed Ukrainian whose warm smile winks with a missing tooth.