Soviet Union hit by nuclear disaster. The apparent meltdown at Chernobyl is a blow to the world's most ambitious nuclear power program. The accident caused widespread contamination of Soviet and foreign territories. Moscow is seeking help from the West as it aids victims.
The Soviet Union has been hit by what is believed to be the most serious accident in the history of nuclear power production. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant apparently suffered a core meltdown, leading to widespread contamination of not only Soviet territory, but neighboring countries as well. Two deaths have been confirmed, and thousands of people have been evacuated from the area surrounding the reactor, according to the Soviet news agency Tass.Skip to next paragraph
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Tass has provided only scant information about the accident. It said that part of the ``structural elements of the building housing the reactor'' had been destroyed or damaged. Western experts here say that indicates that the radioactive core of the reactor melted down, leading to an uncontrolled nuclear reaction.
Radioactive gases escaped from the reactor, and a radioactive cloud contaminated parts of the Soviet Union and sharply increased radiation levels in neighboring Finland and Sweden.
The accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, north of Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. The plant has four reactors, which are cooled by light water, nuclear experts say. They use graphite in the core as a moderator to help sustain the reaction.
Tass said medical aid was being administered at the site. Radio Moscow referred to ``victims'' of the ``disaster,'' but provided no further details.
Although Tass said the ``radiation situation'' at the plant had ``stabilized,'' Soviet officials asked West German and Swedish experts for technical advice on fighting fires in the plant. [An official of the West German atomic energy lobbying group said a Soviet diplomat had asked that antiradiation experts and medicine be made available, the Associated Press reported.]
The United States offered technical and humanitarian assistance.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin is refusing to provide details of what is actually taking place at the reactor site.
``We've heard nothing from the Soviets yet,'' a Western diplomat said.
The official silence is ``unsatisfactory,'' said another, since the accident has already affected nearby countries.
In Dublin, Stanley Clinton Davies, the European Community commissioner in charge of nuclear safety, said yesterday that the Soviets may have breached international law by not reporting the accident sooner.
It is believed that 50,000 people live within a 18-mile radius of the plant. The plant is situated on a reservoir from which the city of Kiev draws its water supply. There are unconfirmed reports that the water has been contaminated by radiation and is unsafe to drink. The population of Kiev is 2.4 million.
The Soviet Union, alone among major industrialized powers, is still ambitiously expanding its nuclear construction program. It is believed the country has some 40 to 50 operating nuclear reactors. Last year, it opened two of them to public inspection for the first time. But most, including the Chernobyl plant, are off limits to visitors.
Indeed, the Soviets have determinedly kept the lid on information about the accident, to the irritation and frustration of Western diplomats here.