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Soviets ask Swedish help in extinguishing reactor fire

By G. LUTHER WHITTINGTON

MOSCOW, April 29, 1986 (UPI) - The Soviet Union asked the Swedish government for help in putting out a nuclear fire -- considered worse than a meltdown - at a giant nuclear power plant in Kiev, a Swedish diplomat said today.

One Soviet diplomat called the disaster outside the Ukrainian capital of Kiev the worst nuclear accident in history.

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There was no report of deaths but a Western diplomat said an unprecedented Soviet decision Monday to issue a statement on the accident at the Chernobyl power plant 80 miles north of Kiev ''almost certainly indicated that the death toll was high.'' A Western nuclear expert said the accident could be catastrophic.

The Swedish diplomat said Soviet authorities had not contacted the Swedish Embassy in Moscow but were dealing with Stockholm, the capital. No other details were immediately available but a fire is considered to be worse than a meltdown at a nuclear reactor.

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In Kiev, officials commandeered buses to aid in the evacuation of residents forced from their homes by the accident, residents said.

On Guam, White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan said the Soviet Union did not formally notify the United States about its nuclear power plant accident ''nor have they asked us for help.''

But Regan said the United States could aid the Soviets. ''We could be helpful, and would be if asked,'' Regan said. ''We have a lot of experience handling these things, both medically and scientifically.''

A Soviet diplomat in Helsinki, Finland, said the accident at the huge nuclear plant was ''the worst ever in the world.'' He did not elaborate.

The worst previous accident -- an explosion of nuclear waste - occurred in the Soviet Union in 1957 but the Soviet Union has never acknowleged it. It turned some 30 villages into ghost towns.

The latest accident occurred at the restricted Chernobyl nuclear plant in the heart of the Soviet ''bread basket.'' The number of people injured was not immediately known but the statement by the Soviet Council of Ministers said ''aid is being given to those affected.''

There were reports that drinking water had been contaminated but diplomats said they could not confirm the reports.

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Residents of Kiev, the nation's third largest city and capital of the Ukraine, said today all bus service in the city was stopped so the vehicles could be used to evacuate the accident area. No details were available on the number of people involved in the evacuation.

''They're bringing (evacuees) to Kiev, but we haven't seen anyone yet,'' a Kiev university student said. ''We didn't see or hear any explosion.''

''Most people weren't aware of it until the TV news,'' a special education teacher said. ''I hope we know more tomorrow.''

The accident sent the radioactive cloud drifting north from Chernobyl over Leningrad, the nation's second largest city, and then to Scandinavia, 1,000 miles away.

Scandinavian officials reported elevated radiation levels but said they posed no immediate danger. The radiation cloud was moving north on a polar route the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said could take it to the West Coast of the United States in five or six days. But White House spokesman Larry Speakes said, ''We understand there is no danger to the United States.''

Polish television reported today that the radioactive cloud also passed over northeastern Poland but that it was not a health hazard.

Western embassy spokesmen in Moscow today expressed concern about their nationals in the accident area and said attempts to reach them had proved futile.

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''We've asked the Foreign Ministry for information on the area and any advice we can pass on to our people there,'' he said. ''We would expect that if our people were in any danger at all, we would be told by the authorities, but we have been given to understand there's no problem.''

The Soviet tourist agency, Intourist, said no tours were being canceled.

''We have no official Americans -- no students or professors -- in the Ukraine right now,'' a U.S Embassy spokesman said. ''It is possible that there are tourists. You can assume that we are concerned and interested in the problem.''

The Council of Ministers statement carried Monday by Tass, the official news agency, said a reactor had been damaged at the Chernobyl plant and that ''measures have been undertaken to eliminate the consequences of the accident.'' It did not elaborate.

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