Soviet nuclear power: a hot topic. Ecological concerns prompt outspoken opposition to new station in Soviet Ukraine

Delegates from Crimea to next week's Soviet Communist Party conference plan to raise a burning local issue: nuclear energy. Antinuclear feeling here, as in other parts of the Soviet Ukraine since the 1986 Chernobyl accident, is running high. Petitions are being circulated calling for work to be halted on the Crimean nuclear power station under construction. Several conference delegates say they are unequivocally against the station.

The region's party leadership, however, expresses less pointed concerns.

One antinuclear petition hangs in the entrance hall of the Crimean Agricultural Institute, the region's main farming college. Staff say that 2,000 of the the 3,200 students have already signed it.

Mikhail Melnikov, the institute's director and a conference delegate, agrees with the students.

``The public is opposed to the station,'' he told visiting reporters. ``We'll fight it.'' The Crimea, with its rich farmlands and some of the most popular holiday resorts in the country, has a unique climate that has to be protected, he added.

Mr. Melnikov said that support for the fight was coming from Moscow State University, where students were also circulating a petition calling for work on the site to stop. Just before the journalists arrived at the institute, Melnikov said, a delegation from the university visited to express their support for the campaign.

Melnikov was critical of the Ukrainian government's efforts to dismiss opposition to the nuclear power station. He noted that during a recent meeting held at the nuclear power station site, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ladush had ``said rather peremptorily that the question of building or not building the station was not an issue.''

The public was outraged by the attitude, Melnikov said, which recalled the old and discredited style of Soviet leadership.

(The Ukrainian leadership is headed by Vladimir Shcherbitsky, one of the few remaining cronies of former Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev).

But in the luxurious new building of Crimea's Communist Party, officials expressed a more nuanced concern.

The first secretary of the Crimean party, Andrei Girenko, acknowledged the ``intense'' discussion swirling around the nuclear power station. The debate was another sign of the growth of ecological concern among the public.

``We can only welcome this,'' Mr. Girenko told journalists. The motives of Crimean antinuclear activists were perfectly understandable, he added. ``Our position is that it would be considerably better if there were no Crimean nuclear power station,'' he said.

But the issue was alternative sources of energy. The region needed more power for its development. Electricity from the station had also been promised to the national grid. For lack of reliable alternatives, Girenko concluded, it seems wiser to ``apply our energies so that the Chernobyl tragedy is not repeated at the Crimean nuclear power station or at any other nuclear power station.''

But Dr. Olga Mikhailets, another member of the Crimean delegation, suggested there are alternatives. ``I'm against it [the power station],'' she said. There must be other ways for the Crimea to generate energy. It has sun 300 days out of the year. Wind and wave power are also possibilities that should be examined, she said.

``I think we'll stop it,'' said Yalta's party chief, Vitaly Izmailov, as he conducted a floating press conference off the coast of Yalta. Mr. Izmailov, an engineer by training, said he had visited the site on many occasions, and was unhappy with what he saw there. ``It's being built chaotically.''

A senior member of the Crimean Communist Party said later that the issue of nuclear energy in the Ukraine - where public protests have halted work on at least one other site - was being examined by a commission under the chairmanship of a Soviet deputy prime minister, Boris Shcherbina. (Mr. Shcherbina's office said later that he heads a commission to handle the consequences of Chernobyl, but does not chair a commission specifically on nuclear energy in the Ukraine).

Other Crimean antinuclear activists expressed concern that the commission would be long on discussion and short on decisions. Similar concerns have been expressed about the party conference.

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