As public exasperation mounted over the Soviet Union's refusal to give more details about the status of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, Western European governments imposed new measures today to guard against the effects of radioactivity spreading across the continent from the damaged nuclear plant in the Ukraine.
West Germany announced that radiation tests would be applied to all fruit, vegetables, meat and milk imported from the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. Any products that showed signs of contamination would be blocked from entering the country, the Health Ministry declared.
Health officials also warned consumers against drinking milk from Austria and the southern part of West Germany, where higher radiation levels have been detected in recent days.
The winds that carried radioactive air across the Baltic into Scandinavia early this week have shifted haphazardly, carrying fallout into central Europe in recent days.
East Germany reported today that radiation levels recorded since Wednesday were 100 times higher than normal readings taken before the nuclear accident. The official East German news agency ADN said the figures had "stabilized at a lower level" and did not pose a danger to health.
It was the first official report from the Communist authorities informing East Germans about the radioactivity from the Chernobyl plant. The state-controlled press also quoted two East German scientists as charging that the uproar in the West over the Chernobyl accident was "a campaign of panic to divert the world's attention from the Soviet Union's disarmament initiatives."
The charge was echoed by the chief of Moscow's Communist Party, Boris Yeltsin, who told the annual congress of the tiny West German Communist Party in Hamburg that "the bourgeois press is constantly producing horror stories about the accident . . . and it is all in order to turn the spiral of anti-Soviet hysteria."
Britain today recorded its first traces of radiation from Chernobyl. Richard Southwood, a member of Britain's National Radiological Protection Board, said that "material which certainly came from the Russian reactor" was detected this morning in southeastern England and "showed very low levels" of radioactivity, about double the normally low background radiation present.
In Romania, "radiation levels much over normal limits" were reported by state media, and Romanians were warned to keep children indoors, to drink only bottled or city water and to wash all fruits and vegetables.
Yugoslavs also received official warnings against eating fresh vegetables and staying outdoors for long periods after radiation levels more than eight times the normal level were recorded in Belgrade.
Belgium and the Netherlands reported slight increases in atmospheric radioactivity today, but the levels were smaller than in West Germany and Austria and decidedly less than in Poland, Romania and other countries bordering the Soviet Union.
The absence of detailed information from Moscow provoked further criticism about Soviet secrecy today from Western European governments and health agencies. They contended that lack of Soviet cooperation was hampering their ability to tailor their precautions to the actual radioactive hazards.
The World Health Organization, in a report issued in Copenhagen, declared that "no concrete information has been provided by the source country for the guidance of other countries."
Dr. Mostafa Tolba, the head of the U.N. Environment Program, said in Geneva that he was concerned by the Soviet failure to cite the levels and nature of the radiation originally released in the accident and whether the emissions were still continuing.
A Bonn government spokesman, Norbert Schaefer, said the decision to scrutinize all food from Eastern Bloc countries for radiation contamination was taken "because the Soviet Union is still not prepared to provide comprehensive information about the type and extent of the accident."
Asked why the Soviet government was taking so long to provide exact descriptions of the accident, Moscow's ambassador to Bonn, Yuli Kvitsinsky, told West German newspapers that "the cause of the accident must first be examined precisely before we inform anyone."
West German Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann told the mass circulation daily Bild that Soviet reluctance to give a full accounting of the nuclear accident "had opened the floodgates to speculation."
The Bonn government and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna have repeatedly implored the Soviet Union to allow an international team of experts to visit the Chernobyl plant. IAEA officials said the agency has an emergency team of technicians standing by to assist the Soviets in coping with the disaster as soon as permission is granted to enter the country.
Besides obligatory tests on food imported from Eastern Europe, the Bonn government has ordered checks for radiation on aircraft, automobiles and travelers entering West Germany. The Interior Ministry reported that so far 141 vehicles showed abnormal levels of radioactivity and 27 required decontamination.
Erich Oberhausen, chairman of a West German radiation protection board, recommended that milk from areas that registered high levels of radiation should be stored and released only if iodine concentrations subside to safe levels within eight days. Tests on milk produced in Bavaria showed levels of iodine 131, which is damaging to the thyroid, were double the maximum acceptable limits set by health authorities.
Oberhausen told a press conference here that while the levels of radiation posed no immediate danger to Western Europeans, "even the smallest increase in radioactivity can increase the risk of cancer."
The five southernmost states in West Germany have shown signs of higher than normal radiation in recent days. But shifting wind patterns appear to be raising levels in the north as well.