Unsubstantiated reports of undetermined origin about a possible nuclear accident in the Soviet Union created a scare today, prompting denials from Moscow, other capitals and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
“There has been no accident at atomic power stations in the USSR,” the Soviet press agency Tass said in a brief dispatch. “All atomic power stations in the USSR are functioning normally and all stories to the contrary are groundless.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said there was “no indication of an accident. We can’t confirm any of the reports.”
He said the U.S. embassies in Moscow and Stockholm had been queried about the reports and “they can provide no information.”
The scare recalled the April, 1986, explosion at the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear power station 600 miles southwest of Moscow that released radioactivity into the atmosphere, spreading it over much of Europe. At least 31 people died in the explosion and from radiation illness in what was the world’s worst nuclear power station accident. An unspecified number of other people died later.
Agency Issues Statement
In Vienna, the IAEA issued a statement at 9:15 a.m. PST:
“In response to questions directed to it today, the International Atomic Energy Agency states that it has received no report of any nuclear accident from anyone (or) from any member state, nor has any significant change in the level of radioactivity in the European environment been measured.”
In Oslo, the chief spokesman for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry theorized the reports about a nuclear accident may have been generated by test telex messages transmitted last week by the IAEA to the World Meteorological Office in London.
Fitzwater offered a similar theory.
“The messages included words like nuclear accident, " said the Norwegian spokesman, Per Paust.
“It might have been misunderstood by people who did not know it was an exercise,” Paust said.
The scare began when the Swedish news agency TT said the National Swedish Institute of Radiation Protection had received reports that a nuclear power accident might have occurred in the Soviet Union.
Ulf Baverstam, the institute’s research director, later said reports about a Soviet nuclear accident “are completely wrong.”
“I find it very hard to believe that the Soviets would withhold information of another accident like Chernobyl,” he said.