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Third Death Reported From Chernobyl Accident; Fire Still Burning URGENT

May 8, 1986

MOSCOW (AP) _ A Soviet newspaper acknowledged today that a fire still was smoldering at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, 12 days after an explosion triggered a devastating accident. The official Yugoslav news agency said a third person died this morning as a result of the disaster.

In an editorial today, the government newspaper Izvestia lauded the bravery of those who ″in conditions of risk are eliminating the consequences of the accident, who are extinguishing the still smoldering embers of this fire.″

Until the Izvestia report, Soviet officials had not said whether the plant was still burning. Authorities have said a chemical explosion was probably responsible for the April 26 fire and resulting reactor core meltdown at the plant 80 miles north of Kiev.

A senior Western diplomat in Moscow said today the town of Chernobyl apparently was not evacuated until at least seven days after the explosion. The town, which is about 12 miles from the power plant, has an estimated 30,000 residents.

″I don’t think evacuation was ordered until after the premier (Nikolai I. Ryzhkov) visited″ the plant on May 2, said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ″Our information is that at least in that town the evacuation was still going on two days ago.″

Soviet authorities have said about 49,000 people from four settlements around the plant were evacuated. Officials said Tuesday that some 25,000 residents were removed from Pripyat more than 36 hours after the disaster. They have not identified the other communities from which people were evacuated.

The Yugoslavian news agency Tanjug said a Soviet citizen died this morning in a Kiev hospital. Soviet officials have said two people died and 204 were injured.

The Tanjug report from Moscow said 200 people have been transported to Moscow hospitals for treatment. It said six patients were in critical condition and have received transplants of bone marrow donated by their parents.

Several foreign doctors are in Moscow to perform bone-marrow transplants. Such transplants are considered the only effective treatment for severe radiation exposure.

In Kiev, a city of 2.4 million, levels of radiation increased in recent days because of wind shifts, the Ukraine’s health minister, Anatoly Romanenko, told the official Soviet news agency Tass.

Izvestia said Kiev’s streets and sidewalks were being washed down after radioactive dust settled on the city. The newspaper said school children are not being allowed to play outdoors and city officials are considering cutting short the school year. The newspaper said officials are reviewing whether to send children away to summer camps.

Specialists with radiation-detection equipment were stationed at railroad stations, bus depots and elsewhere to check clothing and food carried by outbound passengers, the newspaper said.

Romanenko said ″normal, calm life continues in the capital of the Ukraine and adjacent areas,″ but it said ″there is also anxiety.″

Romanenko said some Ukrainians were hospitalized after taking what they thought were anti-radiation remedies.

″There are panic-prone people ... They followed some hasty advice, taking medicines that were alleged to protect them from radiation, and there were cases of poisoning,″ he told Tass. Romanenko did not say how many people were harmed or what kind of medicine they took.

Canadian diplomat Hector Cowan, who had been in Kiev since last week to maintain contacts with Canadian students, said he detected no panic there. However, he said, residents seemed glad to be leaving any danger of radiation, and that the railway station there was crowded.

Tass said there are long lines at railway and air booking offices in Kiev, but said those were caused by citizens planning their summer vacations or parents preparing to send their children to summer camps.

In Moscow, one passenger arriving from Kiev with two young children said a recommendation had been made that families with children leave Kiev, but she hurried off without elaborating.

Other mothers arriving with their children said they had not been told to evacuate, but some passengers said many Kievans were trying to get out.

One man, who said he had worked at Chernobyl since 1975, said he had been given indefinite leave after helping cope with the accident’s aftermath.

″There is nothing terrible happening there now,″ he said when asked about the crippled No. 4 reactor.

Meanwhile, Soviet officials were still trying to get the situation at the reactor under control.

″The unusual situation calls for the solution of problems with which neither scientists, nor specialists had ever dealt before,″ Soviet physicist Yevgeny Velikhov said in an interview published today in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda.

″Unfortunately, the struggle with it (the radioactivity) is not over. And thousands of people are conducting it with even more fury than before,″said Velikhov who, according to Pravda, had gone to Chernobyl.

Pravda said helicopters were dumping sacks of sand, clay, lead and boron ″on the reactor womb to make people even safer against its radioactive poison.″

Velikhov told Pravda, ″We are working not only close to it, but also under it.″ He did not elaborate, but said, ″the task is to neutralize it, to bury it, as they used to say.″

In a related development, Thomas Roser, head of the West German Atomic Forum said a Soviet representative had sought information on how to prevent a ″hot molten mass″ from melting through the concrete foundation of a reactor building.

West German nuclear scientists said they believe the radioactive core may be melting through the plant’s floor.

The daily newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya confirmed for the first time that the blaze that engulfed the reactor after a non-nuclear explosion on April 26 had spread to the roof of the building housing the No. 3 reactor.

Sovietskaya Rossiya did not say when the flames spread, or give any other details beyond saying that firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze on the roof. According to the newspaper, 17 firemen were injured as they worked in intense heat.

Tass issued a government statement Wednesday night that said radiation levels around Chernobyl were continuing to decline, although they had not yet reached normal levels.

″Work to decontaminate the terrain in the area of the station, where the radiation level has substantially decreased, is nearing completion,″ the government statement said.

The statement also said work was continuing to shore up the banks of the Pripyat River, which flows near the nuclear plant, to prevent contamination of the water. The river flows into the reservoir that supplies Kiev.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said Wednesday that independent tests of radiation levels in the soil and air show there is no cause for concern in the Soviet capital.

Meanwhile, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told Italian Premier Bettino Craxi in a telegram that he will keep Italy and other countries informed about the progress in containing the disaster, Craxi said.

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