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Soviets pledge compensation in satellite crash

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The Soviet Union has agreed to compensate anyone struck by debris from a crippled spy satellite that is expected to crash to earth in Indonesia next week, an official said today.

Victor Seleznev, first secretary at the Soviet Embassy, delivered the pledge Wednesday to Alfred Sitindjak, head of research at the National Space Center and chairman of the task force Jakarta has set up to monitor Cosmos-1900.

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'Seleznev also promised to provide the task force with the information, free from political bias, that we need to cope with this situation,' Sitindjak told reporters today.

Sitindjak said there was only a slim chance that someone would be struck by debris but expressed concern the satellite's nuclear reactor would cause radioactive contamination. The Soviet official said there was no such risk.

Soviet space authorities lost radio contact with Cosmos-1900 in April, five months after it was placed in a geostationary orbit 155 miles above the earth to monitor U.S. naval activity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Another satellite, Cosmos-954, fell to earth in an isolated area of Canada 10 years ago and Cosmos-1402 splashed into the Indian Ocean in 1983.

Noting that Canadian authorities recovered shards bigger than tennis rackets from Cosmos-954, Sitindjak said the task force had contingency plans to evacuate the area where Cosmos-1900 was expected to fall.

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'The problem is we'll only know where it'll hit two hours before it crashes to earth,' he said, estimating that the satellite will break up into around 50 pieces that will scatter over a 375-square-mile area.

Sitindjak said the chances of someone getting hit by a fragment were no better than a million to one even if the satellite debris landed in a populated area. Java, home to over 100 million people, has a population density twice that of Japan and is within range of Cosmos-1900.

'What worries us more is the long-term effect of the enriched Uranium from the Cosmos-1900 reactor, say over the next 10 years,' Sitindjak said.

The Soviet official, however, dismissed the threat of nuclear contamination as virtually non-existent, saying the nuclear reactor would be incinerated during reentry into the atmosphere.

Sitindjak said Seleznev told him 'there is no danger at all.'

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