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Odds of Meltdown ‘One in 10,000 Years,’ Soviet Official Says

April 29, 1986

Undated (AP) _ The Soviet river town of Pripyat apparently felt safe in the shadow of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, according to recent interviews with local officials, residents and plant workers.

″There is more emotion in fear of nuclear power plants than real danger,″ Boris Chernov, a 29-year-old steam turbine operator, was quoted as saying in Soviet Life magazine.

The magazine’s February issue devoted a 10-page color spread to the Soviet Union’s nuclear power industry, emphasizing the safety of its plants.

The English-language magazine is published by the Soviet Embassy and circulated in the United States under a reciprocal agreement between the two countries.

Asked about the safety of nuclear plants near big cities and resort areas, Vitali Sklyarov, the Ukraine’s minister of power and electrification, told Soviet Life: ″The odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years.″

″The plants have safe and reliable controls that are protected from any breakdown with three safety lines. The lines operate independently without duplicating one another,″ he said, adding that ″new equipment with higher reliability is being developed.″

″The environment is also securely protected. Hermetically sealed buildings, closed cycles for technological processes with radioactive agents and systems for purification and harmless waste disposal preclude any discharge into the external environment,″ he said.

Sklyarov said several institutes and universities in the Ukraine train personnel for the republic’s nuclear plants, but he did not mention how many people they employ.

″Young people come to us willingly,″ he said.

Chernov said he wasn’t afraid to take a job at Chernobyl, site of a major nuclear accident reported this week.

″My workplace is checked by the radiation control service,″ he was quoted as saying. ″If there is even the slightest deviation from the norm, the sensors will set off an alarm on the central radiation control panel.″

Soviet Life said Pripyat residents can see Chernobyl’s nuclear power units from their apartment windows.

″We don’t even notice that we live close to a nuclear power plant,″ said Galina Sychyovskaya, a librarian with two young sons.

Pyotr Bondarenko, a shift superintendent in the nine-year-old plant’s department of labor protection and safety review, claimed driving a car was more dangerous than working at Chernobyl.

″Robots and computers have taken over a lot of operations,″ Bondarenko was quoted as saying. ″In order to hold a job here, you have to know industrial safety rules to perfection and pass an exam in them every year.″

Chernobyl’s reactor is housed in a concrete silo and has ″environmental protection systems,″ the magazine said.

″Even if the incredible should happen,″ it said, ″the automatic control and safety systems would shut down the reactor in a matter of seconds. The plant has emergency core cooling systems and many other technological safety designs and systems.″

Soviet Life described life as pleasant in Pripyat, which it said is ″made up mostly of young people″ with an average age of 26.

Mayor Vladimir Voloshko said the town was experiencing ″a baby boom″ but didn’t have enough day-care centers and nursery schools to cope.

The mayor said traffic and a lack of jobs for women were also problems, but he expressed no concerns about Chernobyl.

Voloshko said the town’s streets ″abound in flowers,″ that many residents own cars and that apartment complexes stand in pine groves. He said each residential area boasts a school, library, shops, sports facilities and playgrounds.

The magazine said warm water of the plant’s cooling pond ″is the domain of a large-scale fishery that supplies fresh fish to stores in Pripyat all year round, while its banks have been taken over by anglers.″