April 25, 2006

Chernobyl boss: “True cause of disaster was hidden”

By Christian Lowe

KIEV (Reuters) - The world has failed to learn the lessons
of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, according to the man who was
in charge of the reactor that blew up 20 years ago this week.

Former Chernobyl director Viktor Bryukhanov told Russia's
Profil magazine in a rare interview that scientists had covered
up the full truth about the design faults that helped cause the
world's worst nuclear accident.

Bryukhanov, who was jailed for negligence over the
accident, was speaking at a time when nuclear power is
returning to favor in countries like China and the United
States as a way of producing electricity with no carbon
emissions, unlike fossil fuels.

"You need to understand the real causes of the disaster in
order to know in what direction you should develop alternative
sources of energy," Profil quoted Bryukhanov as saying in its
latest issue, published on Monday. "In this sense, Chernobyl
has not taught anything to anyone."

The Chernobyl plant's No. 4 reactor blew up as staff were
running a test early on April 26, 1986. The reactor, in what
was then the Soviet republic of Ukraine, spewed a huge cloud of
radioactive dust over much of Europe.

Most scientists now agree the accident was caused by a
fatal combination of flaws in the reactor's design and a
failure by the staff on duty to follow safety procedures.

Bryukhanov acknowledged his staff had made mistakes. But he
said official investigations into the cause of the disaster had
been a whitewash designed to exonerate the nuclear industry.

"The scientists, the construction engineers, the
prosecution experts, they all defended their professional
interests and that was all. It was a tissue of lies that
distracted us from the search for the real causes of the
accident," he said.

Reactors of the same design as the one at Chernobyl are
still in operation in eastern Europe, though they were modified
after the accident to eliminate the safety flaws uncovered by
the Chernobyl investigation.

The official probe into the accident was part of a broader,
international cover-up about the risks of nuclear power,
Bryukhanov said, though he offered no evidence to back this up.

"(It's) not just us: the Americans, the French, the
English, the Japanese, are all hiding the real causes of
accidents at their own nuclear power stations," he said.

Bryukhanov was at his home near the plant when the reactor
blew up. He served half his 10-year jail sentence and now lives
in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, the magazine said.