Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on the Soviet Nuclear Reactor Accident at Chernobyl

May 4, 1986

The President's task force on the Soviet nuclear accident is continuing to monitor the situation and to report on the effects of the accident to the President on a regular basis. No increases of radioactivity above normal background levels have been reported by the radiation monitoring networks in the United States or Canada. The airmass containing the radioactivity continues in its present location over much of Europe and a large part of the Soviet Union. The airmass containing radioactivity is not expected to enter any part of the United States for several days and is not expected to pose any threat to human health or environment of the country.

The cause of the accident leading to the explosion at the Chernobyl site is still unknown. The Soviets have claimed that they've used helicopters to drop sand, lead shot, and boron on the fire in unit four in order to reduce the activity level. Apparent damage to the building and detective radioactivity levels in nearby countries suggest that massive core damage must have occurred. We are unable to confirm the Soviet claim that the fire in unit four has been extinguished. There is still no evidence that unit three was involved in the accident.

The Soviets have reported that they evacuated the three towns closest to the Chernobyl reactors. This and other reports of evacuation up to 30 kilometers from the site are consistent with an accident of this magnitude. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has notified its licensed facilities in the United States to provide monitoring data to the task force to augment EPA's nationwide radiation monitoring system, which is gathering data on an accelerated basis. The United States Government is also making efforts to gather data from several countries surrounding the Soviet Union that could prove essential to evaluating the accident in the absence of information from the Soviet Government.

In addition, we have sent a team of U.S. technicians to Moscow. They arrived in Moscow to begin evaluating health and environment at our missions in the Soviet Union. First results from our monitoring in Warsaw indicates that background radiation levels of roughly twice the normal background levels. This is not to be judged particularly serious. For example, normal levels in Denver are about three times background due primarily to rock and soil makeup.

There is a report on the wires that a Cabinet-level meeting is taking place -- Japanese Government in Tokyo regarding increased radiation levels over central Japan from rainfall. We do not have any specific information. We've been in touch with the Japanese Government to confirm these reports and have not yet received any information that we can go on. We do not have any specific monitoring information either.

Note: Larry M. Speakes read the statement to reporters at 10:55 a.m. in the Heian Room at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, Japan.