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Chernobyl Victims’ Doctor Says Another Nuclear Accident Will Happen

August 11, 1986

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ The American doctor who treated victims of the Chernobyl accident says an international response team should be formed to deal with inevitable future nuclear disasters.

Dr. Robert P. Gale, in a speech Sunday to a group of scientists, also criticized the Soviet Union for responding slowly to the Chernobyl accident. And he said that while the consequences of Chernobyl are horrible enough, they pale in comparison to those of nuclear war.

The world’s worst nuclear power accident presented an international team of physicians with incalculable problems. An exchange of nuclear weapons would multiply those problems many times over, he said.

″So if anybody thinks there can be an adequate response to planned nuclear war they had better rethink that stand,″ said Gale. Drawing a parallel between Chernobyl and the less-serious nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, Gale said operator confusion and error apparently occurred in both places.

He attributed the more serious consequences of Chernobyl to the plant’s design, especially its lack of a containment structure above the reactor core and its use of graphite, rather than water, as the main coolant. Most of the 100 U.S. nuclear plants use water, he said.

″I think we’ve demonstrated that at least in the fields of experimental hematology and bone marrow transplants, there are no political considerations,″ Gale said. ″However, we will never be completely successful in preventing these accidents. They’re inevitable.″

Gale predicted that the first full report on what happened at Chernobyl on April 26 will be delivered by Soviet physicists in Vienna starting August 25. In his address to 500 researchers from 22 countries at meeting of the International Society for Experimental Hematology, he declined to speculate on what the report would say.

Gale, 40, a bone-marrow transplant specialist, was invited to the Soviet Union on May 2, in an unprecedented action by the normally secretive regime.

The doctor said the Chernobyl accident claimed 30 lives. The official death toll as of July 29 was 28, but three new graves have been discovered since then in a cemetery near Moscow reserved for Chernobyl victimes.

Gale, chairman of the International Bone Marrow Registry and a practicing physician at the University of California at Los Angeles, said he will make his fourth trip since the disaster to the Soviet Union on August 30.

In his speech, Gale faulted Soviet authorities for not evacuating thousands of people from the Chernobyl area sooner than the 36-48 hours officials waited.

But Gale said he has had complete co-operation from Soviet authorities, and said he hopes the Soviet attitude will help lead to better international understanding of nuclear energy and its consequences.

″What we need is a cadre of physician-scientists ready to respond anywhere in the world to this type of accident,″ Gale said.

Gale is chairman of the International Bone Marrow Registry and a practicing physician at the University of California at Los Angeles.

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