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Soviets admit to 'accident' at their Chernobyl plant.

THE Soviet Union acknowledged there has been an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

A report, from the official news agency, Tass, said there had been casualties but gave no details of numbers.

The report said that one of the reactors had been damaged in the accident, but gave no further details beyond saying that measures were being taken to eliminate the consequences of the accident. It also claimed the accident was the first at a Soviet power station. The report was the first confirmation of a major nuclear catastrophe.

The accident was believed to be the most serious in the history of nuclear power, worse even than that at the Three-Mile Island power station in the United States in 1979, when there was some release of radioactivity but nobody was injured. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just north of Kiev, consisted of four nuclear reactors, known as light-water cooled, graphite-moderated reactors - a type hardly used outside the Soviet Union.

It emerged that design flaws had led to a power surge, causing massive explosions which blew the top off the reactor. The sudden jump in radioactivity levels was enough to prompt a full-scale alert in Sweden, which initially believed the accident had happened at its own nuclear power station, on the Baltic coast. The evacuation of 600 workers had been ordered before experts realised that the source of the radioactivity must have been within the Soviet Union. Early reports listed the death toll from radiation at 64.

But, over the years the number of fatalities from premature cancer has been listed in the millions - and the effects are still being felt today. The contamination spread across neighbouring Belarus, and into Europe. In north Wales, sheep on some 350 farms still have to be tested for radiation.

The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry, as well as nuclear power in general, slowing its expansion for a number of years and forcing the Soviet government to become less secretive about its procedures. The government cover-up of the disaster was a catalyst for glasnost.

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* AFTERMATH: an aerial view of Chernobyl after the world's worst nuclear power accident
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:4EXUR
Date:Apr 28, 2012
Words:365
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