Russia's wildﬁres threaten nuclear sites TOM PARFITT August 7, 2010 MOSCOW: Russia's Emergencies Minister has warned that wildfires raging in the west of the country could release radioactive nuclides from land contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Sergei Shoygu said special laboratories were monitoring a potential release of contaminants in Bryansk region on the border with Ukraine, which was sprayed with caesium-137 and strontium-90 after the explosion of the power plant's fourth reactor in 1986. The alarming statement came as firefighters continued to battle hundreds of fires across central and western Russia amid the hottest temperatures in more than a century. Wildfires around Moscow have forced the Defence Ministry to order munitions moved from a military depot near the capital, the Ria Novosti news agency reported. Elsewhere there were reports that a secret communications centre of the Russian Army had gone up in flames. The President, Dmitry Medvedev, sacked several high-ranking officers in the navy on Wednesday after a 100-hectare naval aviation base was destroyed by fire. The Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, ordered a halt to all exports of wheat and other grains from August 15 after drought and fires destroyed one-fifth of Russia's crop and forced the country to draw from emergency reserves. High temperatures, lack of rain and wildfires have devastated more than a third of cultivable land in Russia, the world's fourth-largest grain exporter. ''This is very serious,'' Abdolreza Abbassian, the chief grain economist at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, said. ''It's a desperate situation because it has caught everybody offguard … there is a risk of destabilising panic.'' Wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade surged 6.4 per cent on news of the halt to Russian exports. In his announcement at a cabinet meeting in Moscow, Mr Putin said that Russia needed to ''prevent a rise in domestic food prices''. He said he would decide whether to extend the ban into next year after this year's harvest. In Bryansk, firefighters were concentrating on the southern part of the region, across the border from Chernobyl. ''In the event of a fire there, radionuclides could rise [into the air] together with combustion particles, and a new zone of pollution will appear,'' Mr Shoygu said. Firefighters have been forced to drop water bombs to douse forest fires nearing the perimeter of a nuclear plant in Sarov, 500 kilometres east of Moscow. Daytime temperatures have been above 30 degrees since June. Moscow's tabloid press has speculated the United States orchestrated the heatwave in order to favour its own grain exporters by blasting Russia with harmful rays from a research station in Alaska. Wheat and barley have shrivelled, sunflowers have wilted and sugarbeet has barely reached half its normal size. Analysts said Russia's grain output could fall from 100 million tonnes last year to 65 million tonnes this year. Farmers have already begun to slaughter livestock early because they expect to run out of feed. Mr Putin may have acted to prevent a backlash after public displeasure of the handling of the fires which have killed 50 and left at least 3000 homeless. Russia's wildfires threaten nuclear sites Hey who said the Cold War was dead?