By Harold Hayes

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (KDKA) – The first American researcher to investigate the Chernobyl reactor meltdown on site, along with Russian and Ukrainian scientists in the years after that disaster, says what’s happening in Japan has not reached the magnitude of Chernobyl yet.

“The closer one is Three Mile Island and it’s definitely not Chernobyl,” says Dr. Alexander Sich, now a physics professor at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

But he says he is concerned about reported levels of radiation leaking from crippled reactors.

“Now the third explosion which they think happened in a lower part of the containment, they’re speculating that there may have been a breach of the containment at that point, but again no one is sticking their nose down there to find out,” Sich said.

“You’ve got to keep those fuel rods cool. That’s the issue. It’s not a nuclear issue per se – it’s keeping those rods cool and if they lose their ability to cool, meaning those emergency backup diesel generators you can expose the core.

“If it’s exposed for long enough you can have some partial melting just like what happened at Three Mile Island,” he added.

His study of the Chernobyl disaster left him with some lasting impressions and not all of them involve the pictures of the burned core or the remnants of life surrounding the plant itself. His lasting impression involves the way the government responded there.

“What completely shocked me was that everything, pretty much everything that the Soviets said in their report in front of the international community in August 1986 in Vienna to the I.A.E.A. was not true,” says Sich.

‘”For example, most people remember helicopters dumping 520 tons of clay, dolomite, sand, lead, boron on top of the reactor. It never hit the reactor. That was the most stunning thing for me,” he recalled. “In other words, the reactor burned in the open for approximately eight and a half to nine days.”

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