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The G7 Summit: The Seven split on nuclear rescue

MUNICH (Reuter) - The rich nations yesterday could not agree on how to prevent another nuclear disaster like Chernobyl.

Officials said the world's industrial powers were ready to help ex-Soviet republics with urgent steps to improve safety at their atomic power plants. But they are split between the Europeans, who want a broad and expensive multilateral effort, and the United States, Canada and Japan, who want to deal directly with receiving countries.

Germany would be in the front line if radioactive clouds drifted from the East, and Dieter Vogel, the government spokesman, said Western states must move fast after the summit to put any plan they agree into action. 'A real timebomb is ticking there,' he told journalists, reminding them of the Chernobyl disaster, in 1986, when a Ukrainian reactor exploded and spread a radioactive cloud over Europe. Chancellor Helmut Kohl has taken the lead in pushing for a broad safety programme to shut down old Chernobyl-type RMBK reactors and refurbish the more modern types.

He has urged the other G7 nations - the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Italy and Canada - to support a dollars 700m ( pounds 367.4m) programme that will patch ageing pipes and tighten management at the most dangerous nuclear plants.

Independent estimates of the full cost of creating a safe nuclear power industry in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where Moscow's less sophisticated reactors were the standard, range from dollars 2.5bn to dollars 130bn. Mr Kohl was supported on Monday by German business groups and environmentalists who were reflecting widespread concern about nuclear safety here.

But British and French officials said it already seemed clear Mr Kohl's plan for a single fund run by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development would not be approved. They said funding could be co- ordinated through the Group of 24 industrial nations but the final result would not be known until the summit ended on Wednesday.

Members of European delegations said the non-Europeans believed their nuclear industries would have better chances of major contracts if they stayed outside any centrally-run multilateral programme.

A US official told reporters on Monday that Washington would contribute dollars 100m to the initial aid package but did not say whether this would be strictly direct help.

Japanese press reports say Tokyo will train Russian and East European nuclear technicians in safety procedures and pledge dollars 25m to any G7 project.