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Higher Radioactivity Linked to Possible Soviet Leak

April 14, 1987

BONN, West Germany (AP) _ The Bonn government said today it has asked Moscow about unusual increases in atmospheric radiation reported in several European countries. Experts say the readings might have been caused by a Soviet nuclear accident.

West Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and France today said they had measured radioactivity increases of varying amounts in March. They said the emissions were not high enough to cause damage or injuries.

West German experts said the increased emissions probably came from a nuclear power leak. But a Swedish official said the radiation was more likely the result of burning waste or the cleaning of a reactor in the Soviet Union.

In Moscow, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov told reporters that ″no discharges of radioactive emissions have been registered on the territory of the Soviet Union.″ He said any increase in radioactivity came from somewhere else.

The Soviets were criticized after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster because they initially failed to report the power plant accident, which killed 31 Soviets and sent radiation around the world.

Claudia Conrad of the West German Environment Ministry said the increased radioactivity measured in March ″posed no danger″ to people in West Germany.

″It measured only 50 micro-Becquerels on average,″ she said. By comparison, the European Economic Community limits radioactivity in milk and baby foods to 370 Becquerels.

Ms. Conrad said the probable cause was a Soviet nuclear plant accident, although she said she could not rule out radiation from an underground nuclear weapons test.

However, Tommy Godaas, chief inspector of the Swedish National Radiation Protection Agency, said a nuclear plant leak was unlikely.

″Considering the small amounts (of radiation), an accidental minor reactor leak was possible but it might as well have been a deliberately increased emission while cleaning a reactor,″ he said in Stockholm. ″We could rule out that the emission came from a nuclear test because it missed some elements.″

Godaas said the radiation could also have drifted from a hospital dump where radioactive isotopes were being burned.

Sweden recorded the abnormal levels between March 11 and March 13 and traced the source of the radiation to an area near the Gulf of Finland southeast of Leningrad. West Germany’s Environment Ministry said that between March 9 and March 15 it measured higher levels of the radioactive element iodine 131 and four to five times the usual amount of xenon gas.

France said today it recorded small increases in iodine 131 and xenon gas during the same period.

In Switzerland, a slight rise in iodine 131 concentration was measured for about six hours March 14, said Hansruedi Voelkle of the Federal Health Office. He attributed the increase to an atomic reactor accident or nuclear test in the Soviet Union.

The explosion and fire April 26, 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Soviet Ukraine sent out radiation that forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of Soviets and contaminated tons of food in Europe. It was the worst nuclear plant accident in history.

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