On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear disaster in history occurred after a botched safety test at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in what was then the Soviet Union. The accident caused radioactive fallout to spew into the atmosphere.
Dozens of people were killed in the immediate aftermath of the disaster while the long-term death toll from radiation poisoning is believed to number in the thousands. On April 28, Tass, the Soviet government press agency, issued its first official statement acknowledging the accident.
In 2022 Russian forces occupied the Chernobyl site for five weeks after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24.
From The San Diego Union, Tuesday, April 29, 1986:
From News Services
The Soviet Union, in an unprecedented statement, yesterday announced that an accident had occurred at its Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, damaging one of the four nuclear reactors and spreading a radioactive cloud as far as Scandinavia, 1,000 miles away.
In the statement distributed by the official Soviet news agency Tass, Moscow also indicated there were injuries in the accident at the Chernobyl plant, 80 miles north of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in the western Soviet Union.
The severity of the accident, which spread discernible radioactive material over Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, was not immediately clear. However, the terse statement distributed by Tass and read on the evening television news suggested it was major.
The phrasing of the statement also suggested that the problem at Chernobyl had not yet been brought under control.
It was impossible to predict the possible number of casualties, but Western diplomats said they feared a high death toll at the accident site. Tass’ mention of a commission of inquiry reinforced that speculation.
One diplomat said, “The wording of the announcement indicated this was a very serious accident. It is not unreasonable to speculate about deaths.”
The announcement — the first-ever official disclosure of a nuclear accident by the Soviet Union — came hours after the Scandinavian countries reported abnormally high levels of radioactivity in their skies.
It said: “An accident has occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant as one of the reactors was damaged. Measures are being taken to eliminate the consequences of the accident. Aid is being given to those affected. A government commission has been set up.”
James MacKenzie, a physicist and senior staff scientist with the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said he believed the nuclear accident was very serious, possibly a meltdown, based on news reports and the amounts of radiation in Stockholm. However, other scientists said that they believed it is unlikely there was a meltdown.
Residents in Kiev reached by telephone early this morning said all bus service in the city had been suspended so that the vehicles could be used to evacuate the disaster area.
“Most people weren’t aware of it until the TV news,” a special education teacher in Kiev said. “I hope we know more tomorrow.”
In reporting the accident yesterday, Tass said it was “the first one in the Soviet Union.” However, Western experts have said an accident at a remote plutonium-processing plant in the central Soviet Union in 1957 reportedly killed or injured thousands and contaminated a wide area.
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