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Finland Tries to Check Mysterious Cloud, But It Stays over USSR

June 6, 1990

HELSINKI, Finland (AP) _ Finnish authorities sent a jet plane to check on possible danger from a mysterious cloud drifting west from the Soviet Union on Wednesday, but the large cloud changed course and stayed over Soviet territory.

Weather analysts and radiation monitors in several Nordic countries described the cloud as about 60 miles long and 9,900 to 16,500 feet above ground. They said the cloud, warmer than the surrounding air, was emitting steam or smoke.

″It could have been caused by some sort of disaster or accident. But it could also be just an ordinary large cloud,″ said Markku Konttinen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Late Wednesday, the Finnish Center for Radiation and Nuclear Safety in Helsinki said in a telephone recorded message, ″It is apparent that the air samples already taken won’t reveal the composition of the cloud. ... The origins of the cloud are not necessarily unusual.

″Increased monitoring will be continued as a safety precaution for the time being. But nothing unusual has been recorded at radiation monitoring point,″ the center said.

Earlier, the center said safety checks ″to determine whether the cloud is radioactive have been put into force.″

Weatherman Jouko Korhonen said the cloud ″has all the appearance of a normal, large cloud and its direction is southeasterly at the moment.″ That would keep the cloud over the Soviet Union.

″We won’t find out about the upper layers of the cloud ... now that it is moving away,″ Korhonen said. But he said air samples could still yield some information.

″If there really was something irregular there, then the lower layers of air, which are still heading in the direction of northern Finland, are more important,″ Korhonen said.

Officials in Rovaniemi, a military aviation center on the Arctic Circle in Lapland, said a Finnish Air Force jet took samples from Finnish airspace. The samples were being sent to Helsinki for analysis.

The officials said the plane did not encounter the cloud.

Earlier, weather observers cited satellite photos as showing the cloud was headed from the Barents Sea toward northern Finland. The Barents Sea is north and east of the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Soviet Union.

The Finnish Center for Radiation and Nuclear Safety quoted Soviet sources this week as reporting four nuclear power plants are operating on the peninsula. The report was provided under an information agreement made after the Soviet nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

The April 26, 1986, explosion at the No. 4 reactor of the nuclear plant in the Soviet Ukraine was the world’s worst atomic accident. Two workers died of burns they suffered in the explosion, 28 died shortly after the accident from radiation exposure, and one died of a heart attack while fighting the fire.

The accident touched off angry protests from the Soviets’ Western neighbors, because the first report came from Swedish officials after high levels of radiation discovered there.

Norwegian Northern Defense Command spokesman Geir Anda said authorities have nothing to indicate the cloud ″is radioactive. From the information I have, it must have come from an area at sea, possibly north of Noveya Zemlya island.″

The island is north of the Soviet Arctic port of Murmansk.

Torbjorn Norendal of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry said, ″We contacted the Soviets about this through our embassy in Moscow this afternoon, to ask what was going on. The Soviets say nothing strange has happened in their territory.″

In the Soviet Union, Olga Belikova of the Northwest Agency quoted Murmansk civil defense official Nikolai Sklyar as saying radiation levels in Murmansk were normal and that no accidents had been reported at nuclear sites in the region. The Northwest Agency is an independent organization based in Leningrad.

Interfax, the Soviet news agency affiliated with state-run Radio Moscow, recently reported that millions of dead starfish and mollusks had washed ashore from the Barents Sea. The agency quoted a Soviet laboratory as saying radiation was not the cause.

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