CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The Department of Energy timed its venting of radioactive debris from a failed 'Star Wars' nuclear test in Nevada to make it appear it came from the Chernobyl accident, a radiation and health expert has charged.
'It was opportunistic venting ... so they could blame it on the Russians,' Rosalie Bertell, a biostatistician who heads the International Institute of Concern for Public Health in Toronto, said in an interview Wednesday.
She also said France, West German and Japanese governments may also have timed -- but not publicized -- venting of nuclear power plant radioactivity to coincide with the global cloud of debris from the Soviet accident April 26.
'The U.S. Department of Energy apparently took advantage of the Chernobyl accident to vent radioactive debris from the failed Mighty Oak nuclear test blast at the Nevada test site' on April 10, she charged.
A DOE spokesman in Washington dismissed the charge, saying: 'Of course it's not true.'
Bertell has served as a consultant to both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was a member of the citizens advisory committee to the president's commission on the accident at Three Mile Island.
She said venting of the April 10 test was delayed by the DOE until April 27, the day after the Chernobyl accident, and 'seriously contaminated' Salt Lake City and Spokane, Wash., with high levels of radioactive iodine 131. Both cities are downwind from the Nevada test site.
She said the data was based on the EPA's Chernobyl Federal Response Data Information Sheet. The DOE, which runs the Nevada test site, has never made complete spectrum breakdowns public, she added.
Bertell questioned the DOE's May 6 admission there had been the release of only xenon 133 -- a much less dangerous radioactive gas -- from the Nevada test.
'This information was shabby, not very credible,' she said.
'There was an extremely high level of iodine in Las Vegas and if iodine got out, then other things got out,' she said, adding, 'That would be a first class scientific miracle' if no other radioactive matter was released.
The levels of radioactive iodine measured in the western United States by the EPA in the first two weeks of May could not have been attributed to Chernobyl, she said, which primarily emitted radioactive cesium 134.
'The group that has been lying to us is the DOE,' said Bertell.
'I think they thought they could get away with it because the Chernobyl radiation got into the jet stream,' she said, 'and they don't want retaliation against the Nevada test site and 'Star Wars.''
Bertell, who just ended a six-week study in Europe into the health effects of Chernobyl, said French and West German colleagues raised 'serious questions of deception' by those nations venting nuclear plants as the Soviet cloud spread from the Ukraine.
'And I suspect the Japanese may have done the same,' she said.
In her book, 'No immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth,' she says the U.S. has 'a history' of masking radioactive releases to coincide with releases elsewhere, the latest during China's nuclear tests in the 1970s.
In the April 10 test, part of the Strategic Defense Initiative 'Star Wars' research, a hydrogen bomb was exploded underground. A closed chamber's doors were opened for milliseconds to capture radioactivity for a weapon beam.
But, Bertell said, the doors closed too late and the chamber filled with radioactive gases that had to be vented.
'This is very shabby reporting in a country with freedom of information. The irony is that we complained about the lack of information from the Russians. The trouble is the foxes have been guarding the chickens,' she said.
Bertell said the congressional panels created in the wake of the Chernobyl accident should press the DOE -- using the Freedom of Information Act -- for complete data on the venting from the April 10 Nevada SDI test.
'I strongly urge immediate cessation of nuclear testing at the Nevada test site by both the United States and Great Britain both in the interest of U.S. national security and public health,' she said.