MOSCOW — The director of the government commission investigating the April 26 Chernobyl nuclear accident has been replaced, a dispatch of the official news agency Tass indicated Friday.
In a report about commission activities, Tass cited Vladimir K. Gusev, a deputy premier, as head of the commission--the first word that Deputy Premier Boris Y. Shcherbina had been replaced in the commission post. It was Shcherbina who made clear to Moscow that local officials initially underestimated the gravity of the accident.
Tass said nothing about when Gusev was appointed. It said that he had met Ukrainian Communist Party leader Vladimir V. Shcherbitsky and the republic's premier, Alexander Lyashko, for talks on relief work under way at the plant.
Shcherbina visited the site of the stricken reactor in the days following the accident, and his commission's report, made public on May 6, first made the magnitude of the disaster known to officials in Moscow.
Soviet officials have since acknowledged that local people were evacuated from the immediate vicinity of the reactor about 36 hours after the accident.
Twenty-six people have died as a result of the explosion and fire in the fourth reactor of the power station, all but two of them from radiation sickness.
Last month the director and chief engineer of the Chernobyl plant were fired for negligence in combating the accident.
The Communist Party newspaper Pravda said they had failed to appreciate the seriousness of the situation and to get rescue efforts under way quickly enough.
Soviet sources and Western diplomats in Moscow have indicated recently that Shcherbina, 66, has been suffering from health problems perhaps connected to the release of radiation at the reactor site.
Gusev, 54, was appointed last month as one of several Soviet deputy premiers. He was previously first deputy premier of the Russian Federation.
In its Friday report, Tass said Shcherbitsky and local officials called for more settlements to be constructed for people evacuated from the 19-mile isolation zone around Chernobyl. About 7,000 are being built, it said.
New River Port
In Chernobyl itself, construction has begun of a settlement to house relief workers in the region, and a new port on the nearby Pripyat River is also being built.
The party youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda said that contaminated water now poses the biggest threat in the area after an accident several days ago in which a pipe carrying water to the river ruptured.