Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev ordered state-run media to avoid critical reporting on the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion shortly after the disaster, according to secret documents.
The report and memos from the once-powerful Communist Party Politburo, appearing Thursday in Pravda Ukrainy (Ukrainian Truth), indicated that Soviet leaders were informed of the scope of the disaster but distorted the information reaching the public.The April 26, 1986 explosion at the power station was the world's worst atomic accident. Soviet authorities claimed only 31 or 32 people died. Western experts say anywhere from 500 to 7,000 people have died from cancer or other radiation-related illnesses.
At greatest risk were an estimated 229,000 soldiers, workers, drivers and other people recruited to clean up the area around the plant.
The top secret report published Thursday was signed by Gorbachev, who at the time was the country's leader as general secretary of the Communist Party.
About 500,000 people were contaminated by radiation and 200,000 others receive medical attention every year. Nearly 200,000 people were evacuated from the 50,200-square-mile zone around the reactor.