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

May 3, 1986

The United States continues its effort in dealing with the Soviet nuclear accident, both on the diplomatic and domestic fronts. The Vice President in Washington assembled a special situation group on Friday and has since reported to the President his findings. Attending that meeting, besides the Vice President, were Don Fortier of the National Security Council; Secretary Weinberger of the Defense Department; D. Lowell Jensen, the Deputy Attorney General; John C. Whitehead, the Deputy Secretary of State; John Herrington, the Cabinet Secretary at the Energy Department; William Casey, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; General John Wickham, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Nunzio J. Palladino, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- Nunzio Palladino and Harold Denton; and Environmental Protection Agency, Lee Thomas. There were additional staff members from each of these agencies present, but those are the major ones who attended.

The President has received the report of the Vice President in written format as a result of the meeting. The President and Vice President both expressed serious concern with the lack of information that the Soviet Government is providing to the public and to the world and to its own citizens. Environmental accidents whose fallout ignores national boundaries are concerns for all. We will continue to press for full and accurate information.

While it's true that the Soviets are reporting that they have smothered the fire at the [number] four Chernobyl reactor, we cannot confirm that. We have every reason to think that the fire has diminished, but there is evidence that the reactor or associated equipment with the reactor continues to smolder. We do know that the second hotspot, as reported from the Landsat photos, was not a reactor.

Weather patterns are shifting from day to day, but airborne radioactivity now covers much of Europe and a large part of the Soviet Union. In the last 48 hours there has been movement of radioactivity to the south, and there's apparently elevated levels detected as far south as Italy. Air containing radioactivity by aircraft was measured at 5,000 feet about 400 miles west of northern Norway and is believed to have turned south and southeastward. It is beginning, perhaps, to return over Europe. While there's been speculation about the movement of the plume eastward across the Soviet Union, we cannot at this moment confirm any movement across the Soviet Union. There has been no detection of any elevated levels of radiation above the normal background either in the United States or Canada. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) radiation monitoring network is now sampling all media on a daily basis, but there is no reason to expect any risk to human health in the United States.

With the limited data on hand, the Department of State and Health and Human Services have issued an advisory against travel to Kiev and adjacent areas. Due to reports from the Polish Government of increased levels of radiation in certain lake districts, we're recommending that women of childbearing age and children should not travel to Poland until after this situation is clarified. Milk and other dairy products in Eastern Europe also should be avoided. Other actions taken by the task force include: radiation-monitoring teams have now been sent from the United States and are in place in several European countries; EPA medical teams have been sent to our Embassy personnel in Warsaw and Moscow. An EPA technician and State Department medical expert will leave today for Warsaw, Krakow, Moscow, and Leningrad to help determine the radiological status of our missions there. An expert in bone marrow transplants, Dr. Peter Gale, has gone to the Soviet Union to offer his expertise and assistance.

Note: Larry M. Speakes read the statement to reporters at 10:37 a.m. in the Heian Room at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, Japan.