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article imageRussia bans wheat exports, fires ‘may release Chernobyl sprays’

By Paul Wallis     Aug 6, 2010 in Environment
Severe drought has forced a ban on wheat exports as Russia continues to try to contain huge wildfires. The drought, combined with the worst heatwave since records started, is causing serious economic problems to escalate.
Russia is the world’s biggest wheat producer, and millions of hectares of crops have been obliterated by the drought. The long dry heat wave has consistently hit 40 degrees Celsius, 104F. A huge spike in wheat prices on global markets has many economists concerned about the effect on consumer prices around the world. Prices have risen by 90 per cent on global exchanges, and a war of words has erupted as Russian growers worry about loss of their markets.
The ban on exports, similar to the recent ban by rice producers caused by crop failure, is intended to protect Russian domestic markets from shortages. This ban is unprecedented in wheat, one of the world’s staple foods.
Fortunately, Russia still has 24 million tons of wheat left over from a record harvest last year, but the fact is that this is effectively a year's supply for the Russian domestic market. A second crop failure next year would put severe pressure on supplies, and hit the global wheat market hard. The FAO is already expressing alarm.
Russia’s conifer forests and peat have burned savagely for weeks, and there’s no obvious sign of relief coming until the change of seasons. A naval aviation base was apparently destroyed, and the senior officers sacked.
Official facts
Russian News reports that:
The death toll from fires currently stands at 52.
The total area affected according to the Russian Emergencies Ministry is 557,000 hectares.
All told, 22 regions are affected, and NASA satellites have registered 535 hot spots, high intensity heat areas.
While fires around major city Voronezh have been extinguished, the fires around Moscow and elsewhere are proving extremely difficult to contain, although Russian news sources report that half of the fires have been put out.
Fears regarding release of Chernobyl nuclide sprays
When Chernobyl’s reactor meltdown occurred in 1986, some of the areas now affected by fires were sprayed with caesium-137 and strontium-90. Concerns have been raised that these isotopes may be released into the atmosphere by the fires. The effect would be a “zone of pollution” according to Russian experts. No specific information about exactly which areas are affected is being provided other than Bryansk on the Ukrainian border, but the areas to the east of Chernobyl are subject to the prevailing westerly winds. These areas include large peat zones and forested regions, which are typical fire zones in the emergency.
More about Russia fires, Drought, Wheat export ban
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