#13 - JRL 7173
The Electronic Telegraph (UK)
May 8, 2003
Chernobyl risks ignored by Soviets
Nuclear plant a danger from day one, say secret files
By Askold Krushelnycky in Prague
SENIOR Soviet officials knew that the Chernobyl nuclear plant was a disaster waiting to happen but ignored warnings that could have averted the world's worst civilian nuclear accident.
Ukraine has released more than 100 secret files sent by its branch of the KGB to the Soviet intelligence organisation's headquarters in Moscow saying the plant was fatally flawed from the start.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), which replaced the KGB after independence, said it published the files to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the disaster and to shed more light on it.
One of the four reactors at Chernobyl exploded on April 26, 1986, after a safety test went wrong.
About 5,000 people have died as a result of the accident, many of them within days of being exposed to high radiation as they tackled the ensuing fire. The Ukrainian government estimates that up to five million Ukrainians suffer health problems as a result of the disaster. Thousands of people affected demonstrated in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, last week to protest at cuts in their state medical services and pensions.
Scientists say radioactive material released after the explosion was the equivalent of that produced by 500 atomic bombs the size of that dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.
Contamination spread over Ukraine, neighbouring Belarus and Russia and reached as far as Scotland and Wales, where radiation levels from the accident are still being monitored.
The documents released by the SBU show that Chernobyl suffered serious flaws beginning at the design stage and that mistakes continued during building in the 1970s and throughout its operations.
They show that the authorities ignored KGB warnings that building materials were sub-standard and that nuclear technicians often ignored safety regulations. There were 29 accidents between 1977 and 1981.
A KGB report in January 1979 said: "According to operational data, there were deviations from design and violations of technology procedures during building and assembling works. It may lead to accidents."
In September 1982 an accident released what the documents describe as "significant quantities of radiation".
One document deals with an inspection only weeks before the disaster, when engineers said the plant was too dangerous and should be shut.
Maryna Ostapenko, an SBU official, said: "We hope to restore the historic truth by publishing documents about the station, its construction and the disaster."
The release of the documents is apparently intended to place responsibility for the Chernobyl disaster squarely with Moscow.
During Soviet times the safety of ordinary citizens was never an important factor in deciding whether grandiose projects were approved. Accidents were almost always kept secret.
It was only after the fall of communism that people learned about deaths in previously unreported aircraft and train crashes, as well as major disasters involving pollution and nuclear contamination.
Thousands of Ukrainians affected by the accident demonstrated in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, last week to protest at cuts in their state medical services and pensions. The protest involved a previously secret military unit, the 731st special battalion, which helped prevent meltdown of the nuclear core after the explosion and worked despite knowing they were being exposed to radiation.