May 18, 1999

Cuba disputes U.S. claim that nuclear plant is unsafe

                  HAVANA (CNN) -- Cuban officials insist a planned nuclear
                  power plant in Cuba would meet international safety standards and
                  reject U.S. criticism that the facility is deteriorating and could trigger an
                  environmental disaster.

                  "We don't comment on the nuclear power plants that the United States
                  has in its territory," said Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage.

                  The Juragua power station, begun by the Cuban and Soviet governments in
                  the early 1980s, was abandoned when it ran out of money after the Soviet
                  Union collapsed.

                  However, Russia's Interfax news agency reported last week that Russia and
                  Cuba reached agreement on a new joint venture to complete the plant,
                  located on Cuba's southern coast.

                  U.S. officials have expressed skepticism that the Russians and Cubans can
                  find the estimated $700 million needed to finish the project.

                  The plant is based on Soviet technology, but would use a light-water
                  reactor, rather than the graphite-cooled model built in Chernobyl, Ukraine,
                  the site of the world's worst nuclear accident.

                  Some U.S. critics fear the plant's construction is not safe, accusing the
                  Cubans of constructing a facility riddled with cracks in concrete containment
                  vessels and substandard welds in critical pipes. They fear an accident could
                  threaten the United States.

                  According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association,
                  radiation leaks from the Cuban plant could be carried by Caribbean winds
                  north to Florida and up the eastern seaboard to Washington, D.C., or
                  possibly west to Texas.

                  "We certainly don't need another Chernobyl 90 miles away from the
                  United States," said New Jersey congressman Bob Menendez, who
                  suggested the United States respond by reducing U.S. aid to Russia by the
                  same amount Russia invests in the plant.

                  Cuba said the nuclear plant will meet international requirements and said the
                  government was willing to work with an International Atomic Energy body.

                  "We have not rejected this. We have excellent relations with those
                  organizations. We've always worked with them, and not because anyone
                  asks us to," Lage said.

                           Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman contributed to this report.