MOSCOW — A senior Soviet official said Saturday that the country is "suffering from great tension" as a result of the April 26 Chernobyl nuclear disaster that shocked experts who had been convinced that such a tragedy "could never happen" in the Soviet Union.
Lev P. Feoktistov, deputy director of the State Committee on the Use of Atomic Energy, made the comments in an unusually frank and apparently unrehearsed television interview. Initially, Soviet officials had sought to minimize the consequences of the accident that has killed at least 13 people but have been more forthcoming in recent days.
Feoktistov said: "If that place (the area surrounding Chernobyl) had not been contaminated, if it had been a conventional explosion at an ordinary factory, the entire cleanup would have taken two weeks. It would have left no traces. But radiation spoils everything."
During the interview, Alexander Bovin, a political analyst for the government newspaper Izvestia, asked Feoktistov, "if someone had asked you two days before the accident if such a thing could have happened, what would you have said?"
Feoktistov, citing "work done by computers," said "all the possibilities had been played out in theory to make sure that such accidents, mighty in their consequences, would never happen."
"But it did happen," said Feoktistov.
'Really Serious Consequences'
"The fact that a considerable amount of radioactivity was thrown outside the station . . . led to serious consequences, and they are really serious consequences," Feoktistov said.
"Our country is suffering from great tension," he added.
Ivan S. Silayev, a deputy chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers, said on Soviet television that, "All the main elements of the reactor are cold. There is a slightly raised temperature in the middle."
Silayev said the cooling process at the reactor 60 miles north of Kiev in the Soviet Ukraine would continue, but added "we are completely drawing to a close the process of cooling all remaining parts of the reactor."
The Communist youth organization newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Saturday criticized those who did not stay at their posts at Chernobyl to fight the fire or help victims.
Yuri Zagalsky, a deputy chairman of the Komsomol organization at Chernobyl, was fired, the newspaper said.
"The Komsomol members didn't see him during the accident. He didn't help. He was too busy with his own affairs," the paper said.
A secretary of the organization, Galina Lupy, "also ran away," it said without saying what punishment she may have received.
Three other minor officials were disciplined last week for not helping during the evacuation of the area around the plant, but no high party or state officials have yet been publicly punished.