MOSCOW -- One of the first victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was never found and his body has been entombed forever with the remains of the ill-fated reactor, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda said Friday.
Despite the Chernobyl accident, a senior government official said the Soviet Union plans to almost double the amount of electricity produced by nuclear power plants in the next four years.
Alexei Makukhin, deputy minister of Power Development, said in an interview with the Tass news agency that, 'The construction of large atomic power stations is planned for the European part of the USSR where fuel and energy resources are relatively not large.'
The Soviet press Friday largely concentrated on the human aspects of the disaster involving the fourth unit at Chernobyl, 600 miles southwest of Moscow, condemning 'deserters' and praising the heros who died trying to control the runaway reactor.
Singled out for praise were Valery Khodemchuk and Vladimir Shaskenok, two operators who perished at their posts in the first minutes of the April 26 accident that sent a radioactive cloud floating across much of Europe and western Soviet Union.
Singled out for derision was a young couple who fled their apartment near the reactor abandoning their disabled father to the fallout.
Previous reports had said Khodemchuk, identified May 14 by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as one of the two men killed in the initial blast and fire, had died from falling debris.
Pravda said Friday that, 'Valery was never found. The fourth unit became his grave and maybe some day it will be written that it is not the reactor that is buried there but Valery Khodemchuk.'
Soviet experts have been working around the clock to seal the damaged reactor in concrete from above and below using remote controlled bulldozers and robots.
In Vienna, Boris Semenov, the Soviet representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Thursday that at least 15 people were dead and 20 remained in critical condition with radiation exposure following the accident.
In Washington, Dr. Robert Gale, the American specialist in bone marrow transplants, the only known treatment of radiation diseases, met with Secretary of State George Shultz to brief him on his work in Moscow with the Chernobyl victims.
Gale has predicted that even more of the most critically ill people will die and up to 200,000 people will have to be monitored for their rest of their lives to check for radiation-related diseases.
Soviet officials have said 220,000 people have had medical checkups in the Chernobyl area since the accident.
The government has described the sequence of events that led to a buildup of hydrogen in the reactor and explosion and fire that blew the roof off the building, but has given no explanation for the cause of the accident.
A Soviet atomic safety expert told a group of reporters this week that some experimental research was being conducted at the time of the accident, but did not elaborate.
Pravda, which has condemned Western press coverage of the accident, said the disaster showed the Soviet people 'in their true light.'
The newspaper said Khodemchuk told his wife and two children to get a good night's sleep so they could help him pick potatoes in the morning when his night shift at the plant was over. He never returned.
His mother, Anna Isaakovna, waited for his family to come to pick the potatoes as promised, unaware that her son had become the first victim in the world's worst nuclear disaster.
'She didn't have a presentiment that her timid Valery would open a tragic list of those who tried to stop that which was beyond their control,' Pravda said.
His close friend, Shashenck, was dragged from the blast scene and died minutes later. His dying words were: 'Valery is over there' pointing to the burning power station, the newspaper said.
'Why at the same time did a young couple not just run away in panic from the city but what is more they left their inavlid father behind in the apartment?' the newspaper said.
The man was later rescued by police who saw a light in the apartment window thought to have been evacuated.