As It Happens

Chornobyl's urban explorers find evidence of logging inside exclusion zone

On an unauthorized visit to the Chornobyl exclusion zone, Artur Kalmykov discovered that loggers had clear cut a protected forest -- wood that activists fear poses a health hazard and has been sold to unsuspecting homeowners.

Urban explorers from Ukraine say they have discovered logging operations inside the Chornobyl exclusion zone and warn that irradiated wood is being sold to unsuspecting consumers.

The first time we saw forests and the second time it wasn't there.-Artur Kalmykov

"I wouldn't want to live in such a house," Artur Kalmykov tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

The computer programmer from Kiev visits the exclusion zone frequently because he says it relaxes him.

A radiation warning sign is placed near the check-point 'Maidan' of the state radiation ecology reserve inside the 30 km exclusion zone around the Chornobyl nuclear reactor. (Sergei Grits/AP)

On a recent trip to the zone, Kalmykov and his explorers, who call themselves "stalkers," found that an area they had visited a month or so earlier had been completely clear cut by loggers.

"The first time we saw forests and the second time it wasn't there," says Kalmykov.

Thirty years ago this week, an accident at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine dumped lethal amounts of radiation in the area surrounding the reactor, killing dozens within hours and thousands more since — an exact number is still a hotly debated topic.

FILE - A 1986 file photo of an aerial view of the Chornobyl nuclear plant in Chornobyl, Ukraine showing damage from an explosion and fire in reactor four on April 26, 1986 that sent large amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere. (Volodymyr/AP)

A 30-kilometre exclusion zone was established around the reactor to minimize people's exposure to radiation, this zone is now 2,600 square kilometers. Now, it appears that parts of the forest are being logged for consumers to unwittingly buy.

Kalmykov took his discovery to Stop Corruption, a political watchdog group. The group accuses the agency in charge of the exclusion zone of corruption and says irradiated wood from the zone could wind up in people's homes.

In an interview with The New York Times, the director of the exclusion zone, Vitalii V. Petruk claimed illegal logging had not taken place since he assumed the job in the fall.

An abandoned kindergarten in the deserted city of Pripyat, which was built to house the workers of the Chornobyl nuclear power station. Residents were told they would be returning within a matter of days so they would not bring a lot of personal items that may have been contaminated by the fallout. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

"Stop Corruption made a film about it (illegal logging). They spoke with the manager of the exclusion zone...he told them he doesn't know who is cutting down the forest," says Kalmykov.

Kalmykov also recently met some loggers working in the zone. They told him they didn't know who their bosses were either.

A playground in the deserted town of Pripyat, Ukraine, about 3km from the Chornobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Petruk has proposed increased logging in the area to feed a steam power plant that would reduce the need for Russian natural gas.

In the aftermath of the disaster, an area of forest in the path of the fallout absorbed so much radiation that within days all the trees had turned red, earning it the nickname of "the Red Forest." These trees were eventually cut down and buried.