By Richard Gray, Sunday Telegraph
Russian military pilots have described how they created rain clouds to protect Moscow from radioactive fallout after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.
Major Aleksei Grushin repeatedly took to the skies above Chernobyl and Belarus and used artillery shells filled with silver iodide to make rain clouds that would "wash out" radioactive particles drifting towards densely populated cities.
More than 4,000 square miles of Belarus were sacrificed to save the Russian capital from the toxic radioactive material.
"The wind direction was moving from west to east and the radioactive clouds were threatening to reach the highly populated areas of Moscow, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod, Yaroslavl," he told Science of Superstorms, a BBC2 documentary to be broadcast today.
"If the rain had fallen on those cities it would've been a catastrophe for millions. The area where my crew was actively influencing the clouds was near Chernobyl, not only in the 30km zone, but out to a distance of 50, 70 and even 100 km."
In the wake of the catastrophic meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, people in Belarus reported heavy, black-coloured rain around the city of Gomel. Shortly beforehand, aircraft had been spotted circling in the sky ejecting coloured material behind them.
Moscow has always denied that cloud seeding took place after the accident, but last year on the 20th anniversary of the disaster, Major Grushin was among those honoured for bravery. He claims he received the award for flying cloud seeding missions during the Chernobyl clean-up.
A second Soviet pilot, who asked not to be named, also confirmed to the programme makers that cloud seeding operations took place as early as two days after the explosion.
Alan Flowers, a British scientist who was one of the first Western scientists allowed into the area to examine the extent of radioactive fallout around Chernobyl, said that the population in Belarus was exposed to radiation doses 20 to 30 times higher than normal as a result of the rainfall, causing intense radiation poisoning in children.
Mr Flowers was expelled from Belarus in 2004 after claiming that Russia had seeded the clouds. He said: "The local population say there was no warning before these heavy rains and the radioactive fallout arrived."