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Chernobyl Death Toll Climbs to 8 : Victims Die of Burns, Radiation; 35 Gravely Ill; 3 Aides Disciplined

May 13, 1986|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The official death toll in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster rose to eight Monday as the Soviet government announced that six people have died from burns and radiation.

Thirty-five others were listed in grave condition, almost double the number listed in that category Friday in a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In a related development, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda reported that three minor party officials in the Ukraine have been disciplined for failing to meet the needs of evacuees from Chernobyl. It named the three individuals in what was the first official identification of people accused of not responding properly to the disaster, although there have been other criticisms of individuals for shirking their duties.

Indications of Rising Toll

Monday's announcement from the Soviet Council of Ministers, coming 16 days after the world's worst nuclear accident occurred in the early morning hours of April 26, was read on the main evening television news program. It indicated that heavy radioactive emissions from the damaged Chernobyl reactor were starting to take a toll on the 204 people who were flown to Moscow hospitals for treatment in the wake of the disaster.

Western specialists said that delays in evacuating plant workers and their families from residential areas in the environs of the damaged plant may have increased the doses of radiation that they received.

"Sadly, there are going to be more (deaths) announced," the science attache at one Western embassy said in commenting on the new casualty figures. "An awful lot of people will be affected, since radiation is cumulative and has a delayed effect."

The Soviet government announced April 29 that two people were killed almost instantly when the reactor exploded, one crushed beneath fallen debris and the other scalded to death by steam. There were unconfirmed reports later that two others had died.

Tass, the official news agency, disclosed that the number of people evacuated from the danger zone--an area 38 miles in diameter around Chernobyl--totaled 92,000, rather than the 84,000 announced earlier by some officials. Almost half of the people ultimately evacuated from the outer perimeter of the zone, however, had remained there until a second-stage evacuation began May 2.

36-Hour Delay

About 40,000 were moved out of the immediate area of Chernobyl on the afternoon of April 27, about 36 hours after the accident occurred.

Vladimir B. Lomeiko, press spokesman at the Foreign Ministry, indicated that misjudgments by local officials of the dimensions of the disaster contributed to the delays.

"The people who dealt with the accident initially did not understand what they were dealing with in reality," Lomeiko said at a press briefing.

He added: "We did not conceal any information. We tried to make clear what had happened" before telling the world.

Speaking with individual reporters afterward, he said: "It is understandable that people were not satisfied with the information that was supplied, but it was not done with ill intent.

Reason for Delay

"The first people who saw this accident did not think radioactive material would be released into the atmosphere. That is why the evacuation of people from security areas was delayed."

Valentin M. Falin, head of the Novosti press agency, was quoted as saying that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev did not learn the fullest implications of the disaster until two days later.

So far, Gorbachev has not made any public statement on Chernobyl, and Lomeiko declined to say when the Kremlin leader might speak out on the catastrophe.

Many of the emergency measures around the Chernobyl plant were taken only after a visit May 2, six days after the accident, by Premier Nikolai I. Ryzhkov and Yegor K. Ligachev, who is considered the No. 2 man to Gorbachev.

Monday's government statement said that radiation levels in the Ukraine and neighboring Byelorussia continued to decline. No figures were given, however.

Outside Danger Zone

"In areas outside the 30-kilometer zone (19-mile radius), agricultural work is proceeding, factories are functioning normally and tourist trips are being conducted by the usual itineraries," the statement added.

Work on decontamination of the Chernobyl plant was stepped up as the damaged No. 4 reactor continued to cool, the government said.

In Vienna, Morris Rosen, safety director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that Soviet workers were temporarily freezing the ground under the Chernobyl reactor to guard against water contamination. On Friday, Rosen said at a news conference in Moscow that concrete was being poured under the reactor as part of a plan to encase it in a "tomb" to prevent any further radiation leaks.

The newspaper Pravda said that the three disciplined party functionaries in the Ukraine were all accused of doing nothing to help 200 workers in their transportation unit after they were evacuated from the Chernobyl zone.

'Some Shortcomings' Revealed

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