Russian troops dig canal to bar fire from atom site

Sat Aug 7, 2010 3:29pm GMT

By Vladimir Soldatkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian troops dug a 8-km (5-mile) long canal to keep fires caused by a record heatwave away from a nuclear arms site, local media said on Saturday as air pollution from the crisis rose to more than six times above normal.

Forest and peat fires caused by the hottest weather ever recorded in Moscow have killed at least 52 people, made more than 4,000 homeless, diverted many flights and forced Muscovites to wear surgical masks to filter out foul air.

"The fire situation in the Moscow region is still tense, but there is no danger either for residential areas or for economic sites," an Emergencies Ministry spokesman said.

Weather forecasts said the smoke, which has reached even underground metro stations, would persist until Wednesday.

Echo Moskvy radio station said army troops excavated the canal to prevent the flames from advancing into the Sarov nuclear arms facility, ringed by forest in the Niznhy Novgorod region around 350 km east of Moscow.

The Emergencies Ministry said the situation in Sarov had "stabilised." Sarov is a closed town whose nuclear site produced the first Soviet atomic bomb in 1949 and remains the main nuclear design and production facility in Russia.

On Thursday, Russia's nuclear chief assured President Dmitry Medvedev that all explosive and radioactive material had been removed from the nuclear site as a precautionary measure.

Air pollution surged to more than six times the normal reading in Moscow, a city of 10.5 million, the highest sustained contamination since the heatwave began a month ago, Moscow's pollution monitoring agency said.   Continued...

<p>Women, holding icons and wearing masks, walk amidst heavy smog in the village of Kriusha, effected by wildfires, some 250 km (155 miles) southeast of the capital in Ryazan region, August 7, 2010. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov</p>
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