Soviet extends test ban. Cites Chernobyl as ominous warning
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, citing the Chernobyl accident as an ``ominous warning'' of the dangers of the nuclear age, has extended the Soviet nuclear testing moratorium until Aug. 6. Mr. Gorbachev called on the United States to join the freeze, which will expire on the anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. Gorbachev proposed meeting President Reagan in Hiroshima or ``any European capital'' that will receive them to agree to a total ban on nuclear testing.
``The accident at Chernobyl showed again what an abyss will open if nuclear war befalls mankind,'' he said in his first public remarks on the April 26 disaster.
Gorbachev also had harsh words for the West, accusing some Western powers of using the accident to cast doubt on Moscow's trustworthiness. Chernobyl had been a ``test of political morality'' which some in the West had failed.
Western diplomats in Moscow were surprised at the harshness of his speech, made on a nationwide television and radio broadcast.
``He's on pretty shaky ground'' in lashing out at the West for its reaction to the disaster, said one diplomat. Moreover, he said, Gorbachev appeared to be doing exactly what he was accusing the West of -- seeking to turn a human tragedy to political advantage.
``His attempt to link Chernobyl with the nuclear moratorium is a rather naked attempt to take propaganda advantage of this,'' he said. ``The two aren't linked. And those countries that are the most directly affected . . . have directly and eloquently stated their reasons for not going along with a moratorium, and Gorbachev is now trying to ignore that and resurrect the issue.''
[In a separate incident, the Soviet Union announced Wednesday that it had expelled a US diplomat for allegedly hatching a spy plot with a CIA-recruited Soviet citizen. It was the second expulsion of an American diplomat in two months.]
Gorbachev said the Chernobyl accident had left nine dead and 299 injured. He also shed a bit more light on the causes of the disaster, which, according to some Western scientists, spewed more radioactivity into the environment than all the nuclear weapons tests in history combined. A sudden burst of power, he said, had surged through the reactor during a routine shutdown for maintenance. That caused a steam leak, leading to the formation of hydrogen. The hydrogen then exploded, demolishing the roof of the plant and leading to a leak of radioactivity.
Gorbachev expressed his regret over the accident, extended condolences to families that had suffered or lost members as a result of it, and promised that the Soviet government would ``take care'' of them.
Gorbachev also held out the possibility that there would be greater international cooperation if another such incident occurred. He called for a stronger role for the International Atomic Energy Agency in sharing information.
He branded as ``far fetched'' any claims that there had been a ``shortage of information'' after the accident. Moscow, he said, had reported fully and promptly on what had happened at Chernobyl. But some Western media had instead poured forth a ``fountain of lies,'' he charged, deliberately distorting what had actually happened at Chernobyl.
Largely absent from the speech were Gorbachev's earlier calls for ``openness'' in confronting shortcomings and problems in this country's government and ruling Communist Party.
The task of sorting out the causes of the accident, he said, would be left to an official government investigating commission. But he praised the work that had been done to cope with the disaster.
Earlier, officials admitted that local authorities had been slow to realize the magnitude of the disaster, and had only belatedly evacuated people living in communities near the reactor site.
But Gorbachev did not touch upon such shortcomings. Instead, he said, the response to the accident had ``required utmost speed, organization, and precision.''
Thanks to heroic and selfless dedication, he said, ``the worst has passed. The most serious consequences have been averted.'' But he conceded that extensive efforts were needed to make the area around the reactor safe. IMPACT OF CHERNOBYL. Western Europe European Community bans import of meat, live animals, and produce from Soviet bloc until May 31. EC fails to set standard for acceptable radiation levels in food grown in EC nations. Denmark stops construction of two reactors. Eastern Europe: Nations strongly criticize EC ban on their food exports. Poland says ban will cost it at least $35 million in lost revenue. Yugoslavia says effort to repay loans from West European banks will be hampered. Chernobyl: Official death toll: nine. Number hospitalized: 299. Number evacuated from their homes: 92,000. Warnings issued to citizens in Kiev to wash fresh foods and bathe regularly. Work continues to entomb reactor in concrete and prevent further spread of radioactive material. Moscow: Kremlin condemns EC ban on food imports, calling it discrimination against East bloc. Three low-level Communist Party members criticized for their role in disaster.