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Why does Russia want Chernobyl? A USC professor explains

The nuclear power plant is home to one of the most well-known disasters and Russia has now used it as a land grab.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Professor Tim Mousseau has been traveling to Ukraine for many years to study the impact of radiation in Chernobyl. 

"We've been to Ukraine up to 50 times in the last 20 years, maybe even 60 times," the biological sciences professor at the University of South Carolina said.

During that time, he has taken eight students there from South Carolina to help study in the past 10 years. But over the last several weeks, that site has become the center of Russia's land grab. Now, he says "it's a huge concern." 

Mousseau said that, contrary to what everyone thinks most of the site is relatively uncontaminated. 

"But a sizable portion, probably a quarter of the area, still has significant radiation levels," he said. 

He said that Russia's movements in the area initially made things worse.

"Just the action of these tanks going through produced a large cloud of radioactive dust that was picked up, raised radiation levels hundreds of times above what they had been before," he said. "Now the levels have calmed back down."

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While studying this area, Tim Mousseau has become familiar with the geographic region and has his beliefs of why Russia would aim for such a dangerous - and infamous - place.  

"The reason they went through Chernobyl is that it's the quickest, fastest way to get to the capital city, Kyiv," he said. "There is a well-paved, large road, which is ideal for heavy equipment." 

But he suggested Russia's logistical interest in taking it didn't stop there.

"It's also access to the western half of Ukraine, it's kinda divided halfway by the Dnieper River," he said. 

And the third reason, he explained, is Russia is not going to attack Chernobyl - especially if they have their own teams around it, they are using it as a form of control. 

For now, Mousseau said he is not planning on studying Chernobyl for the foreseeable future. He will continue to study radiation at other sites like Fukashima. 

But he does plan to head back to Chernobyl when things calm down as there is still a lot of research to be done.

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