Soviets Exposed Troops to Nuclear Bomb

Military Newspaper Says '54 'exercise'
in Ural Mountains 'Eliminated All Landmarks'
By David Remnick

Washington Post Foreign Service

MOSCOW, Sept. 29--The Soviet military dropped an atomic bomb close to its own troops in the southern Ural mountains 35 years ago in an "exercise" designed to test the ability of troops to fight in a region contaminated by radiation.

According to a startling report published today in the daily military newspaper Red Star, there were no fatalities or injuries recorded at the time of the test, but the paper said "Long-term effects of the radiation were never taken into account."

The blast "eliminated all landmarks on the terrain and the area became unrecognizable," the paper said. The article described terrified young soldiers taking cover from the blast in foxholes and behind low mounds of dirt. The heat of the explosion was so great that it melted tanks "and soon everything was covered with stones, dirt and dead animals."

Glasnost, President Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of openness, has revolutionized the Soviet press in the past two years, but the Soviet military has been one of the last institutions to feel its effects. The report in the traditionally conservative Red Star, headlined "Explosion: We Can Tell About It Now," is a devastating portrait of the Soviet military in the midst of the Cold War.

Red Star, an organ of the Soviet Defense Ministry, blames the Cold War and the Kremlin's anxiety about a growing NATO force for such military exercises. "It never occurred to us to question any means used to increase the army's readiness on the battlefield," the paper said.

Since completion of a nuclear test ban treaty in 1963, the Soviet Union and the United States have agreed to conduct all their nuclear testing underground. Before that, however, both countries conducted frequent tests of nuclear explosives in the atmosphere.

Little is known about the Soviet tests, but the United States carried out 100 above-ground tests. People who lived around the Nevada test site are now petitioning Congress for damages, claiming that their health has suffered because of the radiation from those tests.

[U.S. Defense Department documents indicate that between 250,000 and 500,000 U.S. troops were ordered to participate in above-ground nuclear explosions in Nevada and at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean from 1945 to 1963. Like the Soviets, U.S. officials sought to test the effectiveness of protective gear and to assess the psychological effects of the detonations on military personnel.]

[During Operation Crossroads in 1946, for example, roughly 40,000 troops were garrisoned aboard ships deliberately positioned near three atomic blasts at Bikini. Some of the vessels were heavily contaminated by radioactive fallout and required extensive cleaning]

[Beginning in 1952, U.S. soldiers were also stationed in trenches less than four miles from nuclear weapons at the Nevada test site, and in some cases were marched toward ground zero after the blasts were over.]

Today's article said that the Soviet test was conducted on Sept. 14, 1954. Some foxholes were covered and other shelters had double doors. Soldiers were giver gas masks and uniforms that supposedly helped ward off the radiation. Medical centers were set up in the area.

Officials tried to limit the spread of the radiation by waiting for weather conditions that would limit fallout and by dropping the bomb from a plane and detonating it at low altitude of between 300 and 500 yards. Scientists said the method helped reduce the radiation, the article said.