The comparison of Hurricane Katrina and the Chernobyl accident on the Sept. 23 op-ed page should have emphasized that, design and maintenance aside, Chernobyl came about during a faulty safety test conducted by operators who did not fully grasp what they were doing. The plant management delayed reporting the accident to Moscow and tried to cover up the accident's nature and severity. Moscow withheld a public announcement until radioactivity was detected by neighboring countries.

In contrast, U.S. federal, state and municipal authorities were in constant communication before Katrina even reached the Gulf Coast, and the media were all over the story before any damage occurred.

The Soviet system of highly centralized control may have produced a quicker evacuation response, but our system relies first on local initiative -- clearly inadequate in organizing the evacuation of New Orleans.

Comparing the timing of the visits of President Bush and the two Soviet Politburo members to the disaster areas was an irrelevant, cheap shot.

Scholars who have studied the Soviet era, in particular Chernobyl, would be amazed to read such kudos to Soviet efficiency in responding to the Chernobyl disaster.




Richard Rhodes and Gwyneth Cravens used an entertaining method to compare the response to two unlike events, Hurricane Katrina and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

It would have been more useful for them to have compared the response to two technological crises -- such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island -- or two large-scale, slow-developing disasters related to weather -- such as Katrina and the French heat wave of two years ago, which killed 15,000.