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U.S. official: Fires near Chernobyl boost radiation in Belarus

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May 19, 2000, 11 a.m. |
WASHINGTON, May 17 - Wild fires in Ukraine have stirred up radioactive elements remaining in the environment from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and raised radiation levels downwind in Belarus, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday. 'They've detected increased levels of radiation, but not high enough to warrant precautionary measures,' the U.S. official told Reuters. He said his comments were based on information from U.S., Belarus and Ukrainian officials. But in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, the duty officer at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant said on Wednesday there were no serious problems there. 'Everything is operating normally,' the duty officer who declined to be named told Reuters, adding that the plant had announced a 50 percent power output cut on Monday for repairs to its steam-powered turbine. Another duty officer at the Emergencies Ministry confirmed the plant had cut power by 50 percent since Monday and said the purpose was preventative maintenance which should last until Saturday. He said there was no danger involved whatsoever. The U.S. official also confirmed that the remaining working reactor at Chernobyl had been reduced by 50 percent in order to fix a malfunction in a steam line that caused a hydrogen leak. He said there was no radioactive release from the leak. Chernobyl was the site of the world's worst nuclear accident when a reactor caught fire and exploded in 1986, spewing a cloud of radioactive dust over Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and parts of western Europe. Ukraine has promised to shut Chernobyl's single functioning reactor later this year. It has frequently seen power cuts and temporary shut-downs for maintenance and repairs.
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