KIEV - The world has failed to learn the lessons of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, according to the man who was in charge of the reactor that blew up 20 years ago this week.

Former Chernobyl director Viktor Bryukhanov told Russia's Profil magazine in a rare interview that scientists had covered up the full truth about the design faults that helped cause the world's worst nuclear accident.

Bryukhanov, who was jailed for negligence over the accident, was speaking at a time when nuclear power is returning to favour in countries like China and the United States as a way of producing electricity with no carbon emissions, unlike fossil fuels.

"You need to understand the real causes of the disaster in order to know in what direction you should develop alternative sources of energy," Profil quoted Bryukhanov as saying in its latest issue, published on Monday. "In this sense, Chernobyl has not taught anything to anyone."

The Chernobyl plant's No. 4 reactor blew up as staff were running a test early on April 26, 1986. The reactor, in what was then the Soviet republic of Ukraine, spewed a huge cloud of radioactive dust over much of Europe.

Most scientists now agree the accident was caused by a fatal combination of flaws in the reactor's design and a failure by the staff on duty to follow safety procedures.

Bryukhanov acknowledged his staff had made mistakes. But he said official investigations into the cause of the disaster had been a whitewash designed to exonerate the nuclear industry.

"The scientists, the construction engineers, the prosecution experts, they all defended their professional interests and that was all. It was a tissue of lies that distracted us from the search for the real causes of the accident," he said.

Reactors of the same design as the one at Chernobyl are still in operation in eastern Europe, though they were modified after the accident to eliminate the safety flaws uncovered by the Chernobyl investigation.

The official probe into the accident was part of a broader, international cover-up about the risks of nuclear power, Bryukhanov said, though he offered no evidence to back this up.

"(It's) not just us: the Americans, the French, the English, the Japanese, are all hiding the real causes of accidents at their own nuclear power stations," he said.

Bryukhanov was at his home near the plant when the reactor blew up. He served half his 10-year jail sentence and now lives in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, the magazine said.

- REUTERS