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Radiation fear sweeps Europe

By United Press International

Polish mothers fed their offspring iodine tablets, Austrian children were forbidden from playing in the dirt and Swedes were told not to drink rainwater as fears of radioactive fallout from the Soviet nuclear disaster swept Europe Thursday.

Europeans mindful of the invisible radiation from the crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant fed their children dried milk instead of the real thing, and rinsed their fruit and vegetables.

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Some countries banned food imports from the Soviet Union -- and nearly all kept an eye on radiation counters that reached levels up to 15 times normal rates.

The following is a nation-by-nation survey of how Europe is coping with the radiation threat.

--Poland: Polish children up to age 16 were given iodine doses to prevent absorption of radioactive iodine. For good measure, mothers scrubbed their children's heads.

In northeastern Poland, milk from grazing cows was dumped and in Warsaw dried milk was rationed for children. Everyone was urged to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly, but not with possibly contaminated rainwater.

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The government said radioactive iodine levels had fallen considerably by Thursday, but issued no figures. Military planes monitored radiation in the upper atmosphere and weather stations ran checks at ground level.

Leaflets appeared in Warsaw demanding international control over Soviet nuclear power stations.

--Scandinavia: Ground-level radiation readings in Sweden soared to 15 times normal. Levels reached twice normal rates in Denmark but were reported at a relatively low 5 percent higher in Norway. Finland said levels had fallen to almost normal because of favorable winds.

Fears appeared to run highest in Sweden, where people were warned against drinking rain water and travelers were advised to stay at least 300 miles from the Soviet nuclear plant site. Denmark ran Geiger counter checks on truck drivers returning from the Kiev region.

Finland said it was evacuating about 250 of its citizens by charter plane from the Soviet Union, and reconsidering plans to build a fifth nuclear power plant.

Sweden, Denmark and Norway all ordered a ban on importation of food - including meat, fish, vegetables and potatoes -- from the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

--Hungary: Little reaction was reported from tight-lipped Hungarian authorities.

The official MTI news agency reported analysis of air, soil, plants, water and milk had been conducted but that no increased radiation in water and food had been noted.

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The agency said atmospheric radiation levels were not dangerous and that there was no need for precautions beyond continued observation.

--Austria: Although samples of water, milk and vegetables tested in Vienna registered minimal radioactivity increases -- about 1 percent above international norms -- Austrians were advised to wash fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly.

Austrians warned their children not to play in the soil and to stay away from puddles of rainwater.

Authorities said radiation levels were falling and that on a scale where 5 means danger, readings were swinging between 1 and 3.

--Switzerland: Atmospheric radiation between two and 10 times normal appeared at high altitudes in Switzerland Wednesday but were rapidly returning to normal Thursday because of favorable wind conditions, authorities said.

Swiss officials took one further precaution: Swissair planes that had flown through the radiation cloudbelt over eastern Europe were checked for radioactivity when they landed.

--Britain: Britain's National Radiological Protection Board reported no increase in normal levels of radiation in the atmosphere, but air filters at two monitoring stations were being examined daily instead of monthly.

As an added precaution, the Ministry of Agriculture carefully checked fresh milk for any indication of increased radioactivity.

Tourists also were put on alert. ''Our advice to travelers is not to go to Warsaw or Moscow unless absolutely necessary,'' said the Foreign Office -- and added the same advice applied to western Russia and northeastern Poland.

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--France: The French appeared minimally affected. The Central Service for Protection against Radiation reported an ''insignificant'' increase in radiation levels in southeastern France Thursday.

--Italy: In Italy, atmospheric radiation was measured at between 1.5 and twice normal but was still well below the danger level, said the National Committee for Research and Development of Nuclear Energy.

Representatives of the ministries of civil protection health, defense, interior, and agriculture met to discuss possible measures such as a temporary ban on food imports from the Soviet Union, but the only overt precautions were radiation checks on Italians returning from the Kiev area.

A special team at the civil protection ministry was monitoring radioactivity from a network of hundreds of sources.

--Holland: The Netherlands refused to disclose results of air monitoring it had conducted in nine locations, except to say that only ''background radiation'' had been detected.

Officials also said grass samples tested at two sites Wednesday in east and central Holland had registered normal.

Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers said the Chernobyl accident would not affect Holland's nuclear energy plans. The accident, he insisted, ''doesn't need to affect development of energy supplies in the United States and Europe.''

''I see this as an accident and not something that will set a trend for energy,'' Lubbers said.

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