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Wildfires create havoc at Sarov nuclear base

Wildfires are erupting in large numbers in Sarov
Heavy smog in Kriusha, Ryazan, 155 miles south of Moscow  

Emergency action is reported to have 'stabilized' the situation at Sarov, the now-closed town where first Soviet nuclear bomb was built. Forest and peat fires have killed at least 52 people, made more than 4,000 homeless, diverted many flights and pushed air pollution in Moscow to six times its normal level.

Russia's Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu has warned that wildfires raging in the west of the country could release radioactive nuclides from land contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

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 center of the Russian Army had gone up in flames. Russian troops dug a five-mile canal yesterday to protect a nuclear arms site from wildfires caused by a record heatwave.

The forest and peat fires have killed at least 52 people, made more than 4,000 homeless, diverted many flights and pushed air pollution in Moscow to six times its normal level, forcing some residents of the capital to wear surgical masks.

"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.

The canal was dug at Sarov, a closed town 220 miles east of Moscow, whose nuclear site, ringed by forest, produced the first Soviet atomic bomb in 1949 and remains Russia's main nuclear design and production facility.

The fire situation is still critical but there is no danger for residential areas

The emergencies ministry said that the situation in Sarov had "stabilised", and 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.

Russia, one of the world's top grain producers, has also brought in a temporary ban on exports after crops were ravaged by the dry weather. The news sent world wheat prices soaring. The temperature climbed to 36C yesterday. 

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