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Soviet Citizens Still Suffering Radiation Phobia

February 11, 1988|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Nearly two years after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the Soviet Union is still suffering from radiation phobia, the government newspaper Izvestia said Wednesday.

Despite official assurances that conditions in the Chernobyl area of the Ukraine are back to normal, the widespread fear of radioactivity persists, the newspaper said.

An Izvestia reporter who visited a medical center in the Ukraine said he found that doctors there are spending more time on trying to dispel irrational fears than on treating the effects of radiation.

He said a number of patients are undergoing regular checkups, which show no alarming signs, but that they refuse to believe the results.

"We have a very simple question," he quoted one of the patients as saying. "Just how are we going to live any longer?"

Protests Halt Construction

The Izvestia account came after the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that public protests have halted construction of a nuclear plant in the Krasnodar region east of the Black Sea.

The work was stopped even though 25 million rubles, about $42 million at the official exchange rate, had been invested there.

The paper said similar protests are occurring at all the nuclear power plants in the Soviet Union, and it called the outcry a "chain reaction of fear, ignorance and distrust."

Soviet officials have said that the cost of cleaning up after the Chernobyl accident has already come to 12 billion rubles (about $20 billion). At least 31 people died as a result of the accident, which occurred on April 29, 1986. More than 130,000 people were evacuated, and radiation swept across Europe.

Despite the protests in the Ukraine, Soviet officials insist that they will go ahead with plans to double nuclear power production by the end of the century. The country now has 20 nuclear plants.

Komsomolskaya Pravda called for an expanded program of education in an effort to persuade people that nuclear power is not intrinsically dangerous.

"It must be known to everyone that Chernobyl is not the symbol of technical progress," it said. "It's a tragedy of irresponsibility, sloppiness and ignorance."

Several plant officials were jailed as a result of the accident.

Izvestia said there have been no changes in the health patterns of about 100,000 people who live near Chernobyl and are being monitored as a safety precaution. Nonetheless, it said, many of the people being checked attribute the simplest physical disorder to radiation.

Izvestia also reported a new type of treatment, with medications that speed up by 20 or 30 times the natural process of "evacuation" of absorbed sources of radiation. It did not elaborate.

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