Soviets: more information on Chernobyl. But they blast West's record in nuclear safety

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The Soviet Union is slowly sharing more information about the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. The move comes after criticism of Moscow from other countries affected by the accident, which resulted in airborne radiation spreading over much of Europe, Scandinavia, and even parts of Asia.

But even as the Kremlin becomes more open about the accident, it continues to insist that much of the concern over Chernobyl is misplaced and largely the result of deliberate falsification by some Western governments and news media.

Radio Moscow yesterday termed the damage at the stricken reactor ``insignificant.'' And Tass, the Soviet news agency, charged ``high-ranking officials in Washington'' with conducting ``political blackmail'' against the Soviet Union by creating ``hysteria'' over the accident, in an ``obvious'' attempt ``at driving a wedge between the USSR and other countries.''

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Meanwhile, the Soviet government invited Hans Blix, head of the International Atomic Energy Association in Vienna, to Moscow to explain what happened at Chernobyl and what's being done to cope with the aftereffects. And Robert Gale, an American specialist on radiation treatment, has examined victims of the accident and consulted with Soviet physicians on treatment methods.

Western officials continued to complain of too little information, too late. A European diplomat, saying he was ``appalled'' at the lack of information, said the episode threw into question Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's professed commitment to ``openness'' -- both with other countries and with his own populace as well.

Another European diplomat said that the Kremlin ``doesn't seem to understand the irony'' of warning Europe about the dangers of US nuclear missiles, yet expecting European passivity in the face of Soviet failure to provide adequate information about a civilian nuclear accident.

``They are certainly undermining themselves,'' he concluded.

Meanwhile, radiation levels continued to fall in most European countries, with few exceptions. And Moscow continues to answer its critics with its own media blitz on technology failures and nuclear issues in the West.

On Monday, Tass carried articles on the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, contamination from US nuclear tests, US problems in disposing of nuclear waste, the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India involving the Union Carbide Company, and articles on problems at both US and British nuclear plants.

To underscore its point, Tass once again reported on problems at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in 1979, charging that it resulted in ``a serious leakage of radioactivity.''

By contrast, the Chernobyl disaster is now being referred to here as a ``breakdown.''

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