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Russian wildlife approach radioactive land -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: While Russian firefighters continue to battle blazes across the country,
the extreme weather conditions have eased and wind has cleared much of the smoke.

But environmental groups have expressed fears that the wildfires still burning near Chernobyl could
release radioactive pollution into the atmosphere.

Government officials are monitoring radiation and say levels haven't risen above normal.

The ABC'S Moscow correspondent Norman Hermant reports.

NORMAN HERMANT, MOSCOW CORRESPONDENT: Russia's wildfires just keep burning with no end in sight.

And now there are fears they may be putting something much more harmful into the air than the toxic
smoke that has shrouded Moscow and other cities.

Fires are now scorching areas that are contaminated with radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl
nuclear disaster. And officials say radiation being carried into the area with smoke is a real
risk.

ANDREI SIRIN, RUSSIAN FORESTRY INSTITUTE DIRECTOR (translated): These regions, these forests, need
special protection from fires because this radioactive cloud can rise along with smoke with
combustion emissions and spread to a larger area.

NORMAN HERMANT: It's unlikely radiation would spread to Moscow or other European cities but the
environmental group Greenpeace - the first to raise the alarm - says there is a danger from low
level radiation.

VLADIMIR CHUPROV, GREENPEACE RUSSIA: This is a real risk of spreading radionucleates and
radioactivity.

The question of how big this risk is. And again, if it's high-low, if it's repeating Chernobyl or
not. Of course it is not repeating Chernobyl discharge. Of course not.

This is so-called small dose of radiation people will receive if they breathe these aerosols.

NORMAN HERMANT: Russia's capital has been enjoying a respite from weeks of thick smog, with winds
blowing smoke away from the city.

But even in areas that haven't been burnt, the impact of the worst heat wave in 130 years has been
dramatic. A third of the wheat crop has been lost and Russia has banned exports to ensure it has
enough supply to meet demands at home.

IVAN OBOLENTSEV, RUSSIAN AGRO-INDUSTRIAL UNION CHAIRMAN (translation): The prime target is to meet
the domestic demand for grain and here there are too many questions because the losses are immense
and obvious.

NORMAN HERMANT: All through this fire season there's been a steady diet of Russian prime minister
Vladimir Putin in the state-controlled media consoling fire victims, even taking the controls of a
fire fighting jet.

But despite that, questions are being asked about changes on his watch to Russia's fire fighting
system. Capacity has been reduced, forest management has been privatised.

More and more Russians say now they are seeing the consequences.

Norman Hermant, Lateline