Russian website behind Chernobyl smoke alarm suspended

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The website of a state forest watchdog which contradicted the official Russian line that there were no fires in forests contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, has stopped working, a watchdog official said on Sunday.

The watchdog, the Russian Centre for the Protection of Forests, also known as Roslesozashchita, said last week that fires were burning on some 3,900 hectares (9,650 acres) of land, including the Bryansk region.

The area borders Ukraine and Belarus whose soils were heavily contaminated by the 1986 disaster.

Posted on the watchdog's site,, the report contradicted the emergencies ministry which had previously denied there were any fires in the Bryansk region, after concern that nuclear particles could be lifted by the blazes.

Alexei Bobrinsky, the watchdog's deputy director, told AFP the website stopped working on Friday afternoon but said he could only guess why.

"I only know that the site is essentially not working," he said on Sunday. "I can only guess what happened to it," he said, adding that the shutdown could be linked to a public verbal attack by Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu.

On Friday, Shoigu lashed out at the watchdog, saying in televised comments that "unclear information from an unclear website" had been making news in Europe for three days.

He asked the federal forestry agency to which Roslesozashchita reports to "energetically" look into the site.

A system administrator for Roslesozashchita and the agency were unavailable to comment Sunday but an official with the watchdog, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that "there almost certainly has been a directive" to suspend the site after Shoigu's complaint.

Officials said last week they were closely monitoring the contaminated areas and warned against any panic.

Independent experts admitted that the fires could blow contaminated particles to other areas but said the threat of further contamination was insignificant and the smoke from burning peat bogs was more hazardous.

Russia is known for whitewashing what it considers humiliating disasters ranging from the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000.

© 2010 AFP

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