222. Telegram From the Department of State to Secretary of State Shultz in Bali1

Tosec 80165/133853. Subject: Information Memo: Soviet Nuclear Disaster (S/S 8613554).2

(Secret entire text)

To: The Secretary

From: EURRozanne L. Ridgway

Subject: Update on Soviet Nuclear Disaster

Chargé Combs presented our offer of assistance to Deputy Foreign Minister Bessmyrtnykh today. The Soviets expressed appreciation for our offer of help and promised to get back to us.3 Bessmyrtnykh said [Page 934] the government’s technical commission is hard at work to find answers. The Embassy reports that Soviet media now characterizes the accident as a “disaster”, but is providing few details.

• In Washington, Soviet Chargé Sokolov reacted similarly to Ridgway’s offer of assistance. He said that regardless of whether or not the Soviets take advantage of our offer of assistance, they will view it as a positive gesture.4

• The Swedes confirm that the Soviets have officially approached them for assistance in fighting the reactor fire. The FRG Science Attaché reported that the Soviets have contacted private West German firms for assistance in handling the fire. Both the Swedes and the Finns have asked us for any information we have on the status of the reactor accident, since they have been unable to get any from the Soviets. We will provide what information we can.

• The Embassy is hearing rumours of hundreds of fatalities, but the only official word so far is from a Moscow TV broadcast Tuesday evening reporting that 2 people have died, the radiation situation has stabilized, and three populated areas around the nuclear station have been evacuated. A USG traveller leaving Kiev Monday reported observing no unusual activity in that city.

• Based on a Soviet MFA statement that no travel is being permitted to the Kiev and Chernobyl areas, we are issuing a travel advisory. We’re incorporating these elements into an evening reading item.

• The following points were used in the noon press briefing today in response to press inquiries:

—Assistant Secretary Ridgway met with Soviet Chargé Sokolov this morning and expressed, on behalf of the President, the United States’ deep regret over the accident at the Chernobyl atomic energy station. We hope casualties and material damage are minimal. The [Page 935] United States is prepared to make available to the Soviet Union humanitarian and technical assistance in dealing with this accident.

—We learned of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl from the TASS announcement on Monday afternoon. The Soviet Government has not contacted us through diplomatic channels.

—We do not have an accurate estimate of the number of Americans who may be in the area affected by the accident and are in contact with Intourist, the Soviet travel agency, about American tourists who may be affected.

—Our Embassy in Moscow is in contact with registered American citizens known to be in the affected area. The primary responsibility for notifying residents of potential danger and for taking steps to safeguard the public obviously lies with the Soviet authorities. We are in contact with the Soviets on the safety of our citizens.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, [no N number]. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Robinson; cleared by Parris, Negroponte, Stratford, Bova, Wilkinson, and Pace; approved by Ridgway.
  2. The information memorandum was drafted by Robinson and cleared by Parris, Stratford, and Negroponte.
  3. See Document 221.
  4. In telegram Tosec 80173/134124 to Moscow and repeated to Shultz, April 30, the Department reported that Isakov delivered the following message from Gorbachev to Reagan on the nuclear accident at 6 p.m. on April 29: “1. As it has already been reported in the Soviet press, an accident took place on April 26 in one of the power block rooms of the Chernobyl atomic power station, 130 kilometers to the north of Kiev. The accident has resulted in the destruction of a part of the reactor building structure, caused damage to the reactor and some leak of radioactive substance. Three remaining power blocks have been stopped, they are in order and are in operation reserve. 2. According to the measurements which are continuously being taken by Soviet services, the radiation situation in the regions immediately adjacent to the place of the accident has required partial evacuation of the population. Due to the measures taken the radiation situation has been stabilized. Additional measures to eliminate the consequences of the accident are being taken. 3. According to the data of the Soviet competent authorities, dissemination of radioactive contamination in the western, northern, and southern directions has been detected. The levels of contamination are somewhat above permissible norms, but not to an extent that would require special measures to protect the population.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860330–0576)