Nuclear accident occurred 2 weeks ago in Kazakhstan, republic's leader says


MOSCOW -- The president of Kazakhstan yesterday said an accident two weeks ago at a nuclear fuel plant had released a toxic gas cloud that affected "many inhabitants" of the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, the Tass news agency reported.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of the Kazakh republic, asked the Soviet government to declare the accident site in eastern region of Kazakhstan near the Chinese border an ecological disaster area.

The number of victims in the accident and the nature of their injuries have not been made public, in a holdover from the secrecy that for many years surrounded industrial accidents. There has been no report of a radiation release.

Tass said that as a result of an explosion and fire at the plant September 12, beryllium compounds had been released. Beryllium, a light metal used as a shield and casing for nuclear fuel, can catch fire easily, vaporizing and releasing a deadly smoke of beryllium oxide.

Enviromental and radiation hazards are an extremely sensitive issue in East Kazakhstan, which has been the main nuclear testing site for the Soviet Union. Residents of the area around the testing ground at Semipalatinsk complain about a high incidence of radiation-related illness, and their protest movement has succeeded in halting tests in recent months. Ust-Kamenogorsk, a city of 324,000 people according to last year's census, is located about 100 miles from Semipalatinsk.

"The Kazakh public and the town's population demand urgent measures and compensation for their damaged health," Tass said. Local officials have already declared the area a disaster zone, Tass said.

In a telegram to Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, Mr. Nazarbayev asked that Soviet experts be sent to assess whether the Ulbinsky metallurgical plant, where the accident occurred, should be closed. Tass said the plant, one of the largest nuclear fuel facilities, is located in a densely populated area.

The Kazakh president also called for a commission of ecologists, including foreign specialists, to study the environmental consequences of the accident.

The Soviet government newspaper Izvestia has reported that officials involved in the accident were hiding documents to avoid blame.

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