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Chernobyl scientist's suicide described

By GERALD NADLER

MOSCOW -- A 52-year-old physicist who helped restored order after the Chernobyl nuclear accident committed suicide when he was scorned by peers who criticized his handling of the disaster, Pravda newspaper reported Monday.

Valery Legasov, who helped bring the fire at the out-of control Chernobyl reactor under control, became despondent over his ostracism by fellow scientists, the official organ of the Soviet Communist Party said.

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Legasov flew to Chernobyl after the No. 4 reactor at the nuclear plant 80 miles north of Kiev exploded and caught fire. At least 31 people died in the explosion and its aftermath, in the world's worst nuclear accident.

Vladimir Gubarev, a close friend of Legasov and author of 'Sarcophagus,' a popular play about the Chernobyl disaster, said in the Pravda article that government scientists in Moscow ridiculed Legasov's performance.

'I felt like saying to them that Legasov never left Chernobyl, but how come I did not see you there,' Gubarev said.

Legasov killed himself nearly six months ago, on April 27 -- two years and a day after the explosion at the reactor, which was eventually entombed in a cement sarcophagus.

Unlike other members of the emergency team, who were rotated out of the Chernobyl plant to avoid prolonged radiation exposure, Legasov remained at his post throughout the ordeal.

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Despite his treatment by other scientists, Legasov was a national hero at the time of his death.

Legasov was bitterly disappointed, Gubarev said, to learn that he was the only member of the team he worked with at Chernobyl who was not named a 'hero of socialist labor,' a prestigious national award.

Legaso was also devastated by his exclusion by a 129-100 vote of his peers from a seat on the scientific and technical council of the Kurachatov Institute of Atomic Energy, where he worked and was a deputy director.

'He was shattered by the unexpected blow,' Gubarev said.

The Soviet Academy of Sciences 'emascualated' a proposal by Legasov on reviving nuclear science in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, Gubarev said.

The friend quoted one academy scientist as saying, in response to the proposal, 'We will not be supervised by a boy.'

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