Will the real Soviet Union please stand up?

More to the point, will the real Soviet policy on the 1986 nuclear disaster and Chernobyl and its aftermath please make itself manifest?On the one hand, the Soviets have shown themselves more willing than ever before to share data about Chernobyl with Western governments and international agencies. Abel Gonzalez of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna praises them for being "extremely open." But at the domestic level, cover-ups have continued.

Around the village of Narodichi, some 80 miles west of Chernobyl, peasants are complaining of skin, throat and thyroid problems. Scripps Howard News Service reports that farm animals are giving birth to offspring with missing legs and other defects. Since locally produced food is considered unsafe, milk and meat are shipped in from non-contaminated areas.

But the authorities still require the Narodichi district to meet its pre-1986 production schedule. Instead of being consumed locally, milk from local cows is now turned into butter - and sold elsewhere.

One lesson for Soviet consumers would seem to be summed up in the phrase "Let the buyer beware." That clearly also should go for all buyers of the new Soviet policy of glasnost or openness.