MOSCOW -- After an explosion killed five nuclear engineers last week at a northern Russian weapons research center, and reportedly resulted in a spike in radiation in the surrounding region, the Kremlin fell back on old habits: It lied, both about the number of dead and about the radiation.

Contradictory information out of Moscow and local authorities sparked public fears of a government cover-up of a more serious nuclear accident. Pharmacies in the cities of Arkhangelsk and Severodvinsk reported a run on iodine tablets as costumers bought up supplies believed to reduce the thyroid gland's intake of radioactive iodine.

By Monday, American intelligence officials seemed to confirm skeptics' fears when their reports suggested the explosion could have involved a nuclear-propelled cruise missile.

Still, five days after the mysterious accident, the Kremlin has yet to be forthcoming. It raises the question: Has Russia learned anything about transparency since Chernobyl?

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