Authorities badly underestimated the health problems the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster would cause, with reported cancer cases doubling in a region near the stricken plant that was not evacuated, Moscow News reported.

The article Wednesday in the weekly newspaper said calves are born routinely without heads and limbs in the radiation-contaminated area of the Soviet Ukraine.It said more than half the children of the Naro-dichsky region - an agriculturally rich area within 30 miles of the plant - have thyroid gland illnesses, which can be caused by exposure to radiation.

The newspaper's correspondent, Vladimir Ko-linko, said one woman, who cares for pigs at a tainted farm, asked, "My daughter recently got married. What kind of grandson will I have?"

In all, 31 people died in the immediate aftermath of the explosion and fire at the plant on April 26, 1986. The disaster sent a cloud of radiation around the world.

Moscow News reported that elevated levels of radioactive cesium-137 were detected among many residents of the Narodichsky region, which was not evacuated after the accident.

It said, "Health officials of the republic insist there is no health danger for people outside a 19-mile zone around the atomic power station."

Since the accident, Soviet officials stressed time and again that radiation levels were safe in all but the immediate area surrounding the plant. They generally discounted warnings from some Western doctors that cases of cancer and other diseases would soar.