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Ex-President Says Death Reports Exaggerated In Soviet Accident With AM-Nuclear Disaster Bjt

May 2, 1986

ATLANTA (AP) _ Former President Jimmy Carter, who helped dismantle a damaged nuclear reactor in the 1950s, said Thursday that reports of thousands of deaths from the accident in the Soviet Union were greatly exaggerated.

Carter told reporters at the close of a conference on health issues in developing nations that Soviet representative Anatoly E. Romaneko, health minister for the Ukraine, would have left the conference early if the accident had been as serious as reported.

The Chernobyl plant is located in the Ukraine near Kiev. The accident, believed to be a meltdown, began late last week and has released radiation carried by winds for hundreds of miles, as far as Western Europe.

The Soviet Union has said only two people were killed, but unconfirmed reports have ranged into the thousands.

Romaneko, in a brief interview at the conference Tuesday, said he would have been called home if the event were a ″catastrophe.″ He declined requests to be interviewed further.

Brenda Crayton-Pitches, a spokeswoman for the Carter Center, which sponsored the conference with the national Centers for Disease Control, said Romaneko and other members of the Soviet delegation left Atlanta early Thursday as scheduled.

″The Soviets had a very strong and competent delegation, which was in fairly regularly communication with Kiev, which informed him the deaths were minimal,″ Carter said.

″He asked if he should return home, and they said it wasn’t necessary. The bottom line is that reports probably have been greatly exaggerated.″

In 1952, the former president, as a Navy officer assigned to Adm. Hyman G. Rickover’s nuclear submarine program, was assigned to work on what was believed to be the world’s first nuclear reactor accident, at a Canadian plant.

A power surge through an experimental reactor at Chalk River, Ontario, melted some of the reactor’s fuel rods and released a cloud of radioactivity into the atmosphere before water could be poured in to cool the core. There were no reported injuries.

Carter was among the nuclear experts asked to help disassemble the damaged reactor core.

Wearing heavy protective clothing, he entered an area so radioactive that he was allowed to remain only 90 seconds.

He said in his book, ″Why Not the Best″ that the group ″worked frantically for our allotted time. We had absorbed a year’s maximum allowance of radiation in 1 minute and 29 seconds.″

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