Chernobyl Director, 2 Aides Get 10 Years in Labor Camp
The former director of the Chernobyl nuclear plant and two top assistants were sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in labor camps for their part in the world’s worst industrial nuclear disaster. Shorter terms were imposed on three other plant officials.
Soviet officials said after the sentencing that at least three more trials will be held involving individuals at higher levels who failed to provide proper supervision of the country’s nuclear power program. No trial dates or the number or identity of the new defendants were disclosed.
Tass, the official Soviet news agency, said that after a reactor exploded at the plant, in April of last year, the director, Viktor P. Bryukhanov, failed to order an immediate evacuation of the plant and the nearby city of Pripyat even though he was aware of dangerously high levels of radiation.
Bryukhanov arrived within 30 minutes after the explosion, in the No. 4 reactor at Chernobyl, but took no effective measures, Tass said, because he “wished to convey a false impression that everything was all right.”
Judge Raimond K. Brize, a Supreme Court justice who presided over the trial, said that Bryukhanov, 51, must bear the greatest blame for the catastrophe, which took the lives of at least 31 people, forced the evacuation of 135,000 and spread a destructive cloud of radiation over Europe and beyond.
These few details about the former director’s actions were the only new information to emerge from the three-week trial, which has been kept secret from the Soviet people and the rest of the world.
About a dozen foreign correspondents were allowed to be in court for the first day of the proceedings, and a similar number were on hand to hear the verdict and sentencing. They were not allowed into the courtroom at any other time.
On Wednesday, the six defendants showed no emotion as the judge announced their sentences. Some of their relatives wept.
Besides Bryukhanov, former Chief Engineer Nikolai M. Fomin and his deputy, Anatoly S. Dyatlov, were found guilty of gross violations of safety regulations and given 10-year sentences.
The other three defendants were Boris V. Rogozhkin, shift chief at the reactor at the time of the explosion, who was sentenced to five years in a labor camp for violation of safety rules and two years for negligence, the terms to run concurrently; Alexander P. Kovalenko, superintendent of the reactor, three years in a labor camp for violating safety regulations, and Yuri A. Laushkin, senior engineer, two years in a labor camp for negligence and unfaithful execution of his duties.
Bryukhanov was also found guilty of abusing his official powers and sentenced to five years on this count, but this sentence is to be served concurrently with the other.
Bryukhanov, Fomin and Dyatlov denied any criminal liability, although they accepted professional responsibility. The other three defendants pleaded innocent.
In the course of the trial, which began three weeks ago and took place in the town of Chernobyl, about 11 miles south of the ruined reactor, the court heard testimony from 51 witnesses, including 13 people suffering from radiation sickness. Their testimony was not made public. Nevertheless, Tass described it as a “public” trial.
There was no day-to-day coverage in the Soviet press, and the secrecy recalled the blackout on information about the Chernobyl accident that continued for 72 hours despite a mounting international furor over spreading radioactivity.
The Tass account said the trial provided a “true picture” of why the accident had occurred, but it gave no details.
Soviet officials have said that a series of unauthorized experiments conducted with no regard for safety rules triggered the explosion and fire at 1:23 a.m. on April 26, 1986.
A detailed explanation was presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency last September in Vienna. It described how the experimenters at Chernobyl turned off safety systems as well as equipment that provided for automatic shutdown of the reactor in case of danger.
Any statements made by the defendants at the trial were not made public. A spokesman for the Chernobyl information department said that the six men spoke out Monday in their own behalf, two days before foreign correspondents were flown in to hear the sentences.