WASHINGTON, April 29, 1986 (UPI) - The Soviet nuclear disaster involved a power plant of ''uniquely a Russian design'' unlike any U.S. commercial facility but with some resemblance to a military reactor in Washington state, a top Energy Department official said Tuesday.
Acting Assistant Energy Secretary James Vaughan told the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee the United States will ''obviously evaluate'' the reactor in Hanford, Wash., following the accident at the giant Chernobyl power plant north of Kiev. Officials say the disaster is the worst nuclear accident in history.
Both facilities are graphite-moderated reactors, but other aspects of their designs differ significantly, Vaughan said. Most commercial U.S. plants are built according to other designs that do not involve graphite, a soft form of carbon that burns like coal.
In Portland, Ore., an energy watchdog group promptly called for the shutdown of the Hanford reactor.
Eugene Rosolie, executive director of the Coalition for Safe Power, said, ''There's definitely the threat of a similar accident. ... It serves no useful purpose and should be shut down.''
But Vaughan said there are ''as many differences in that (Hanford) reactor as there are similarities'' to the Soviet plant, and the Energy Department is confident of the safety of U.S. nuclear reactors.
The Chernobyl facility is ''uniquely a Russian design, built in Russia to Russian standards,'' Vaughan said. ''It is dissimilar to large commercial reactors in the United States.''
The Hanford reactor produces nuclear products used in the manufacture of weapons and is not a power plant, Vaughan said.
He said Western officials have no information on the size of any containment structure at the Soviet plant -- or whether a containment facility existed at all.
Most U.S. plants have containment buildings to hold radioactive substances that might be released from the reactors, he said, indicating his office would supply the committee with a list of those that do not. Hanford is among those that will be on the list, officials said.
Preliminary evidence indicates the radiation that escaped from the Chernobyl plant will not affect the United States, Vaughan said, noting that measurements in Sweden show the radiation is below harmful levels.
Energy officials in West Germany and Sweden said the Soviets had asked for advice on how to put out an graphite fire, which is considered more disastrous than a reactor core meltdown.
Britain had a graphite fire at its Windscale nuclear reactor in 1957.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., at a Capitol Hill news conference, said it was his understanding that several U.S. nuclear plants are similar in design to the Soviet Chernobyl reactor in Pripyat.
''A few U.S. nuclear plants do not have containment buildings either ... at least one,'' he said, naming the Hanford facility. Markey is chairman of a House subcommittee on energy conservation and power.
Markey also said the Soviet accident underlined concerns about the safety of the American nuclear power program, citing estimates by Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials that there is a 45 percent probability of a core meltdown at a U.S. nuclear plant in the next 20 years.
Markey said he had spoken with NRC Chairman Nunzio Palladino about the Soviet accident. Palladino told him the Soviet accident appeared to be ''a very, very difficult scientific problem'' that might require an international effort to solve, he said.