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Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe

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On the morning of April 26, 1986, Europe witnessed the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine. Dozens died of radiation poisoning, fallout contaminated half the continent, and thousands fell ill.

In Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy draws on new sources to tell the dramatic stories of the firefighters, scientists, and soldiers who heroically extinguished the nuclear inferno. He lays bare the flaws of the Soviet nuclear industry, tracing the disaster to the authoritarian character of the Communist party rule, the regime's control over scientific information, and its emphasis on economic development over all else.

Today, the risk of another Chernobyl looms in the mismanagement of nuclear power in the developing world. A moving and definitive account, Chernobyl is also an urgent call to action.

404 pages, Hardcover

First published May 15, 2018

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About the author

Serhii Plokhy

41 books564 followers
Serhii Plokhy is a Ukrainian and American historian. Plokhy is currently the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History and Director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, where he was also named Walter Channing Cabot Fellow in 2013. A leading authority on Eastern Europe, he has lived and taught in Ukraine, Canada, and the United States. He has published extensively in English, Ukrainian, and Russian. For three successive years (2002-2005) his books won first prize of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies.

For his Ukrainian-language profile, please see: Сергій Плохій

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 975 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,694 reviews14.1k followers
April 11, 2019
I listened to this and in the beginning I was taking notes, but soon gave up on that. This book is so dense, imparting so much information. It was a mess up of epic proportions from beginning to end up. Substandard materials, shortages, money that was supposed to be used for maintenance of the plant, used instead for town amenities. Workers who had little clue what they were doing, pressure from party bosses to get the reactors operational, and then they don't even realize that the reactor had blown up. People getting sick, wading into and touching radioactive materials, hesitancy and unwillingness to evacuate the town. Then the cover-ups, misinformation. My goodness, what a terrible, horrific incident this was. I thought the author did a great job assembling this information and glad this had a PDF file. So many times the audio does not.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
727 reviews11.6k followers
February 4, 2022
“[…] It is still imperative that we draw the right lessons from the Chernobyl disaster. The most crucial lesson is the importance of counteracting the dangers posed by nuclear nationalism and isolationism and of ensuring close international cooperation between countries developing nuclear projects. This lesson is especially important today, when the forces of populism, nationalism, and anti-globalism are finding more adherents in a world that relies increasingly on nuclear technology for the production of energy.
The world has already been overwhelmed by one Chernobyl and one exclusion zone. It cannot afford any more. It must learn its lessons from what happened in and around Chernobyl on April 26, 1986.”
This definitely is not a light read. Dense, detailed and very comprehensive, it painstakingly recreates not just the accident itself but paints a vivid picture of *very Soviet* preceding events with the policies, mismanagement, defects in designs and construction and the fear of retributions that made the meltdown almost inevitable, as well as the wide range of consequences among which was the decline and the downfall of the Soviet Union.

And yet, despite all the details and quite an academic feel, it remains an accessible and quite engaging book that kept my interest throughout. It’s an excellent account of the catastrophe, the aftermath and the people involved. You don’t have to enjoy science and academia to appreciate it.

Some other quite interesting books about Chernobyl nuclear explosion and its effects:

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich

Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl by Mary Mycio

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future by Kate Brown

Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,670 reviews12.8k followers
January 27, 2019
While many know that Chernobyl is synonymous with nuclear meltdowns and severe radiation poisoning, few laypeople are surely clear on all the lead-up and fallout (pardon the pun) related to this horrible event in a small community within Ukraine. Serhii Plokhy delves deeply into the events from April 1986, as well as how things developed from there, turning an accident on a night shift into an international disaster that helped pave the way towards the end of the Cold War. With the USA and USSR each drawing a line in the sand during their decades-long stand-off, nuclear weapons were always something both sides agreed should never get out of hand. The Americans flexed their muscles in Japan to end the Second World War, but also sought to utilise nuclear power effectively in domestic situations. Not to be left behind, Soviet governments rushed to utilise the same power source, aware that it held many dangerous possibilities. Plokhy discusses the Soviet desire to rush building and using nuclear power plants around the USSR, cutting corners when needed to meet deadlines. The Chernobyl plant was one such facility, whose turbines were built beginning in the late 1970s. Early in the hours of April 26, 1986, night shift workers began powering down Turbine #4—the most recent addition to the Chernobyl plant, opened in 1985—for a scheduled test. However, as protocols commenced, the turbine did not follow its expected process and pressures increased, as did the heat. This caused explosions and fires which spewed up a great deal of radiation, invisible to the eye. When workers and fire officials sought to put out the fires, they had no idea that the extensive burns they were suffering could not solely be attributed to the heat and steam, but deadly radiation which commenced causing great sickness. Local and Ukrainian officials began looking into this, communicating with their Moscow counterparts, who downplayed the radiation leaks and chose not to inform the public. Thus began the early stages of a cover-up, in which locals in the town of Prypiat and its surrounding area had no idea of the horrors that awaited them. It was only on April 29th, when a Swedish facility began noticing higher readings coming from particles in the wind, that people began wondering what was going on in the region. Soviet leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, were forced not only to tell the world what was going on, but deal with the massive scale of illness that began showing. Soviet citizens were seeing how their governing bodies had been hiding the news from them, thereby blocking them from fleeing the region or taking precautionary measures. Plokhy describes in detail the horrors that befell those who were close to the fallout, dying from radiation poisoning, which may have been treated had general news been shared, if not prevented entirely with proper warning. The world was able to peer behind the Iron Curtain with news about the Chernobyl accident and see just how ignorant Soviet officials sought to keep everyone, hiding the disaster as only a small glitch. Soon thereafter, birth defects or major deformities began showing up in humans and animals alike, images that are devastating in their depiction. These revelations, posits Plokhy, helped weaken the Soviet hold on their people and prevent any form of trust with the West. The international condemnation was only the beginning, as there was a need to clean-up and reinvent the nuclear wheel for the region, who were dependent on the energy and the work provided by the plants. In the day of 24-hour news cycles and social media, this form of cover-up would surely not happen any longer, but it is worth a thought by the reader. Serhii Plokhy does a masterful job with this piece, offering not only a historical account of events, but giving the reader some of the social and political fallout of events. Peeling back the mystery that had been sought, Plokhy’s book is one that anyone interested in the Chernobyl disaster ought to read.

I am always keen to read about events about which I have a passing knowledge, particularly if they are being handled by someone with knowledge of the subject matter. While I was a little too young to remember seeing Chernobyl news on the television, it was soon thereafter that the word and international event found its way onto my radar, particular in discussion of birth defects. Having read one of Plokhy’s previous tomes on Ukrainian history, I flocked towards this book, hoping that it would shed some light on the happenings in the area. Plokhy effectively sets the scene with some local history, giving the reader the needed context and how lax Soviet safety protocols appeared to be, even when dealing with nuclear energy. The description of events on the night/early morning hours of April 26, 1986 help the reader to better understand how the event came to pass. Layering descriptions with needed scientific terms and levels, Plokhy develops a strong narrative to lay the groundwork for just how troublesome things were and how quickly they turned disastrous. While sickness continued to mount, Plokhy’s discussion of the politics around the disaster was of great interest to me, showing how a cover-up was sought at the highest levels to quell international reactions to events. Even when Chernobyl was uncovered, Soviet propaganda continued, downplaying events and situations for as long as possible. Using a chronological depiction of events, Plokhy effectively argues how Soviet handling of events eroded trust by its people and with the outside (particularly Western) world, thereby hijacking any progress made to denuclearise and create a tepid environment in the waning years of the Cold War. While not the only reason, Chernobyl surely played a part of the fall of the USSR, as is argued persuasively throughout. With detailed chapters on a subject that cannot effectively be handled superficially, Serhii Plokhy presents the reader with a highly informative piece, without drowning them in information. Understandably, there is a great deal of technical information herein, which helps give the reader the needed context of events and how grave things became. Just what I needed to pique my interest in the topic without getting lost in academic minutiae.

Kudos, Mr. Plokhy, for another stellar book about an important time in Ukrainian history. I will have to keep reading what you have written, and hope others will discover your work in short order.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...
December 29, 2019
When the Chernobyl disaster took place on April 26, 1986, I had not long turned one years of age. Up until Xmas Eve of this year, I had no idea of the implications that particular disaster had had on my parents (especially my Mum's) mental health. Despite us living in the UK at the time, I learned that she was worried each time it rained, due to the radioactivity that spread into Europe, so she kept me indoors when it did rain.

I have obviously heard about Chernobyl before, on television reports, and also in books, but I hadn't read anything in depth on it, until now. What inspired me to do so, was the harrowing but powerful TV adaptation of Chernobyl that has been recently shown. I binge watched it. It was incredibly difficult to watch from my front room, but I cannot imagine how terrifying it must have been for all involved on that morning.

In this particular book, Plokhy tells us why this disaster happened, and how, and then he explains what occurred as a result of this disaster. Each event that essentially led to the Chernobyl disaster is written in detail. The actual disaster occurred due to failures from the management at the plant, and unrealistic time targets that they were under pressure to reach.

After the explosion, we are told that people who were initially first on the scene, such as firefighters, were going straight in without any protective equipment, believing that it was merely a fire. These men, were some of the first to lose their lives to acute radiation poisoning.

When reading this book, the word "denial" is everywhere. One cannot quite believe how this was handled by Government officials, who insisted on playing the entire situation down, and at the same time, failing to inform international Governments of the imminent danger to all the surrounding countries.

For me, Plokhy had some information on the political side of things in here, and some biographical information, that really didn't need to be in the book. It was a little dense at times, and although others may appreciate this, I didn't. As I came near the end of the book, it just seemed to be a lot of figures on each page, which is fine if you want that, but figures don't move me. I wanted personal accounts from people involved in this horrendous disaster, not a list of statistics.

Overall, this was an interesting, powerful and an essential read of one of the most significant disasters in history, and I'd recommend it to everybody.
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,007 reviews354 followers
June 28, 2020
Energia Nuclear — Uma Mão Suja a Outra

Quando se fala em energia nuclear recordamo-nos, muito provavelmente, de Chernobyl. Pois... o que sucedeu por lá, na fatídica noite de 26 de Abril de 1986, foi ... nada mais, nada menos... que o maior desastre antropogénico da história da humanidade. No total, a explosão do reator número 4, libertou 50 milhões de curies, o que equivale a 500 bombas de Hiroxima. E... se os outros 3 reatores se tivessem juntado à “festa”, dificilmente algum organismo vivo restaria no nosso amado Planeta.

Se bem que existam vantagens na produção de energia nuclear (não contribui para o efeito estufa da atmosfera, não depende de fatores climáticos, o risco de transporte é mínimo,...), o seu lado negro revela-se deveras devastador ... 💀☠️💀

“Este livro é um trabalho de história. Na verdade, é a primeira narrativa abrangente do desastre de Chernobyl, desde a explosão do reator nuclear até ao encerramento da central, em dezembro de 2000, e às últimas etapas de finalização da nova cobertura que tapa o reator danificado, em maio de 2018”

“Em termos históricos, Chernobyl é a história de um desastre tecnológico que contribuiu não só para o derrube da indústria nuclear soviética, mas também do sistema soviético no seu todo. O acidente marcou o início do fim da União Soviética”

“Poderia o apocalipse nuclear chamado Chernobyl vir a repetir­­­­­­­-se? Ninguém sabe a resposta a esta pergunta, mas não há dúvida de que um novo desastre do mesmo tipo tem mais probabilidades de acontecer, se não aprendermos as lições do que já ocorreu.”
Profile Image for George Kaslov.
97 reviews130 followers
January 4, 2020
Very thorough...

The book covers the events from the original party summit that ordered the construction of the plant to the completion of the new sarcophagus. Now, because the author is well known for covering the history of Ukraine he looked at this catastrophe from more of a political perspective. Everything from planing through construction and running the plant to response to the accident was messed up. Yes he did cover the disaster and its causes, but he was far more concerned with the actions of the communist party and it's failings than anything else. For example he only skims the part the liquidators played in the clean up. And of course the political aftermath that followed, mainly for the independence of Ukraine and its policies after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Now, if you are looking for a more political analysis (mostly from Ukraine and Russia perspective) of the accident then I recommend this book, but if you are looking for a more technical book on this topic and the clean up that followed, there are many others. I hear Midnight in Chernobyl is very good.
Profile Image for Micah Cummins.
197 reviews178 followers
July 13, 2022
Serhii Plokhy's Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe is a brilliant examination of both the scientific and political ramifications of the catastrophic explosion of the Chernobyl Unit 4 RBMK nuclear reactor. Plokhy delivers a comprehensive breakdown of the science of nuclear reaction, as well as the science and engineering behind the Soviet's RBMK nuclear reactor, explaining both how it was meant to function, why it was used over other nuclear reactor options, and what caused Unit 4's spirals into a nuclear disaster. While paying attention and giving great care and detail to the explanation of scientific information, Plokhy also dives deeply into not only the nuclear fallout but the political fallout as well. US and USSR relations are examined, as well as the internal state of the Soviet Union, the rifts and the conflicts that this crisis created, as well as how those in power went about finding solutions to solve them.

A truly gripping read, Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe is a must-read for anyone wanted a deeper and broader understanding of what happened on April 26th, 1986, and why it still matters today.

Review on my YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/Srdcy_tJQmY
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,835 reviews1,343 followers
May 24, 2019
If anyone has time, they should explore belgradewaterfront.com. Last week a friend here took us to the realty office which is located in a former stock market exchange: feel free to infer from there. As two visiting Americans we were given quite the pitch on how this eyesore of Belgrade was going to be replaced by The Future. Malls and luxury apartments, oh my! Such exclusivity, such luxury. Serbia was giving the land and Abu Dhabi was paying the tab. Sounds like an everyday gentrification but upon considering the per capita GDP one thinks appearances might be deceiving.

A few days later I saw this book on the shelves of a shop and bought it immediately. There was already an interest in Chernobyl, given the HBO series we’re recording but in light of what I was seeing before me, it did appear imperative.

Plokhy takes a comprehensive approach to the subject, exploring the history of settlement in the region, how fared as part of the Soviet experiment and the advent of nuclear power.

The narrative is harrowing and the courage of many is heartbreaking. The myriad responses from both within the USSR and around the world were disturbing. There’s money to be made and electricity to be generated. I don’t believe we can count on good faith stewardship with those two incentives propelling the industry. That has given me a great deal to contemplate.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,319 reviews1,611 followers
March 17, 2019
I picked this up on a whim the last time I had credits to burn on Audible, and it was absolutely a credit well spent. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and these days, most of them are non-fiction, and I would still say that this is one of the most enthralling, well researched, well written, and just plain utterly fascinating ones I've read in a long time. I actually started it over at about the 5% mark because I needed to readjust my headspace to really take in the scale and potential of this catastrophe.

I was 3 and a half years old when Chernobyl exploded. My brother was not even 2 years old. I grew up with the word "Chernobyl" essentially meaning "nuclear disaster". To us, it had this mythical status, an imagined isolated nuclear reactor that had the worst happen, poisoning the environment around it. I never really thought about WHERE it was, except that it was far away. I never really thought about much about it, except that it was a terrifying tragedy and ecological disaster. And even with the uptick in Chernobyl related pop culture references, and urban exploration of abandoned places like Pripyat (which I also am fascinated by), I never quite pieced it together that Pripyat was abandoned BECAUSE of Chernobyl. Until this book.

This book covers a lot of ground, everything from an overview on how nuclear reactors work, to the fates of individual people who worked at or were affected by Chernobyl. It goes into what happened that night, the perfect storm of circumstances that caused so much damage, before and after the explosion. It goes into the politics of the Communist Party, and how it played into (or in my mind, caused) the explosion. It goes into the Communist Party's need for obedience and damage control and secrecy over everything else. It goes into the USSR's economy, and how Chernobyl's explosion effectively ruined it, ultimately resulting in breaking up the USSR when Ukraine declared their independence.

This one event has had such far reaching effects, not even counting the radioactivity that will be around for thousands of years... It displaced tens of thousands of families, bankrupted nations, helped to end the Cold War, led to revolts and uprisings about nuclear energy, and international political changes around the globe. It's impossible to imagine what the world would be like today had Chernobyl NOT exploded. It would be so very different.

This book ends on a dark note, though, because apparently the world is not SO different that it has learned from its past mistakes. So many countries are developing nuclear power, and the potential for catastrophe is huge should another accident occur. There was an accident at Fukushima just a few years ago, and yet still we continue on the same path. Sigh.

Anyway, let's get back on track here. I mentioned at the beginning of this view that I really had no idea of the scope or reality of Chernobyl's disaster. I mentioned restarting the audio again to take it in, because I was purely shocked at the fact that the Chernobyl explosion - the one that was so catastrophic that it practically came to define nuclear disasters my whole life - could have been so exponentially much worse, and the amount of blind fucking luck that was involved almost... ALMOST... makes me want to believe in god. (But not really. Because if there was a god, that shit wouldn't have happened in the first place.)

According to this book, approximately 50 million curies of radiation was released into the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of the radiation in 500 Hiroshima bombs. This amount of radiation was the result of only one of the four active reactors exploding, and that explosion releasing only 5% of the uranium fuel. This caused radioactivity to spread throughout most of Europe. If the other 3 reactors had been damaged, it could have devastated life on the planet.

There's a happy thought.

So, I just added a WHOLE LOT of the notes that I took, but I'm thinking that they won't make much sense without context, so here's the Cliff's Notes rundown -
The USSR was all about production and meeting unrealistic quotas on productivity while at the same time spending as little money and time as possible on projects. Safety was not exactly high on the list of priorities, and tons of safety measures, or just standard common sense shit, was nixed in the effort to get up and running yesterday.
Chernobyl was vital to keeping the energy grid stable, so taking it offline for testing was "delaying productivity", and therefore the testing that was supposed to be completed in April was delayed, and then changed. Then finally when they did do the test, the reactor didn't react (ba dum bum!) as expected, and they had to try to compensate using the control rods, which at one point cracked and wouldn't actually move into the active zone of the reactor, and thereby failing to slow or stop the nuclear reaction. They then tried to dump water to cool the reactor, but it resulted in steam, and pressure, and explosion.

Nobody knew what had happened at first, and it wasn't until a flyover hours later that they realized that the reactor had exploded. They knew that SOMETHING had exploded, but thought that it couldn't have been the reactor. Firemen came to try to help put it out as if it was a normal freaking fire... AT A NUCLEAR POWER STATION.

Thus began the two-pronged damage control... The Chernobyl workers and nuclear experts were trying to figure out what happened and how to stop it getting worse. And the Communist Party was trying to keep news from leaking and giving other countries (namely the US) reason to criticize the USSR. But of course it was going to get out... Radioactivity was spreading across Europe. This is not just a "Ugh, who farted?" kind of situation, where you can just pretend not to notice. It's literally invisible death that you just released into the world... accidentally or through complete engineering incompetence... potato, potahto.

Nobody knows what worked to stabilize Chernobyl's exploded #4 reactor enough to encase it and clean up enough so that workers could continue to freaking WORK THERE. But, here we are, not all dead of radioactivity, so something did. Yay!

OK, on to the notes! During the course of this audiobook, I actually progressed two (2) levels of "Stenographer" badges because I took so many notes while listening to this. I apparently have taken more than 125 now, and I can attest that probably 90% of those were for this book. Most of those consisted of notes about specific stats or technological detail (such as the reactor type, and the above stats about the radiation, etc), but a whole fucking lot of them consisted of general outrage and shock. And cursing. Which my phone's voice recognition software is getting SO good at recognizing. (So proud.)

Here's a sampling (edited for clarity, because voice recognition doesn't really grasp my tone accurately enough for punctuation and emphasis):
"Oh my god seriously what the fuck?? How the hell do you DESIGN A NUCLEAR FUCKING REACTOR WHILE YOU ARE BUILDING IT?? That is an insane idea!"
"Oh, of course they would not build any kind of enclosure, because USSR." *deadpan*
"No textbook they'd ever read suggested that a reactor could explode?? Maybe it's me, but common fucking sense would say that if you're causing a reaction where heat and steam is involved, that if it were to get out of control, pressure could build to a point that it would release in the most efficient way possible, which is FUCKING BOOM. 8th fucking grade, man!"
"Holy shit... they didn't even realize the REACTOR exploded!"
"Known design flaw with RBMK reactor types due to graphite control rods causing 'positive void' effect. Yikes!"
"SERIOUSLY WHAT THE FUCK - THE FIREMEN ARE REGULAR FIREMEN!! Not trained, or prepared in any way for dealing with an emergency at the reactor! One is picking up radioactive graphite WITH HIS HANDS AND IT IS MELTING THE SKIN OFF! That is so fucked."
"Just because someone is a [Communist] party official doesn't make them fucking RIGHT. IT IS SCIENCE. FUCKING FUCK!"
"Incorrect radiation level put on initial report because they don't have a dosimeter that measures that high, and nobody believed the one guy who did because nobody believed that it could explode in the first place. WHAT THE FUCK? USE YOUR EYEBALLS AND BRAINS!"
"OH MY SHIT - They cut the outside telephone lines so that info wouldn't leak. What the fuck is WRONG with these people???"
"No evacuation?? Because it might cause a panic. FFS! I mean, what's tens of thousands of lives when people might freak out!"
"Dumping sand and lead and water on it - No plan for emergencies. Just TRYING STUFF AND PRAYING!"
"Not telling their own citizens of the danger. WHAT THE HELL??"
"Radiation levels estimated 80,000 x higher than background normal levels. Dude is tanning in radiation. Jesus."
"FINALLY evacuation... with 2 hours notice. Awesome."
(No notes for a while... just bookmarks apparently.)
Regarding the criminal trial of 3 Chernobyl employees who were blamed for the accident:
"Trial is being held IN THE RADIATION ZONE. WHY??"
"Scapegoats - charged with criminal offenses despite the fact that the Party officials KNEW that it was not only the operators' fault that the reactor exploded. Outcome of the trial was set before it even started. Soviet Union was a fucked up ass place."
"Party leaders didn't want to now the truth, and definitely didn't want to inform people about it, inside or outside the country, because they might look bad. I can't even..."
"Holy motherfucking shit, I can't with this country! YES, there was a crime committed, but it wasn't what CAUSED the accident, the crime was how it was HANDLED AFTER! Nothing but cover-ups and lies and finger-pointing."
"Chernobyl FINALLY closed in 2000! I can't believe it continued to operate for that long!"

OK, it's getting late and I need to go to bed, so I will just say that this review, random and crazy as it is, does NOT do this book justice. This was well researched, well laid out, technically proficient and detailed enough to explain the situation, but not so technical that a normal person can't follow it. The reader was great, and even though there are roughly 900 Russian and Ukrainian names in here that I'm not at all familiar with, I never had any trouble remembering who was who or what they were doing. This book brought their stories to life. This was a tragic situation, and there was a huge amount of devastation, but I will absolutely commend everyone who stepped up to do their part - and yes, that includes the Soviet Union throwing "expendable" bodies at the problem as manual labor to work in the exclusion zone to help clean it up and encase the reactor to prevent more and more radiation leaking out. It sucks that it had to be done, but it NEEDED to be done. So I will give credit for that.

If ever you were curious about Chernobyl - read this book. It's horrifying, but fascinating and important.
Profile Image for Tony.
147 reviews32 followers
April 3, 2019
I thought this was a fascinating history of Chernobyl - its design and construction, the 1986 accident and subsequent efforts to remedy (and conceal) it, the spread of radiation, and so on - including its role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In places this is a moving account - for example how attempts to conceal what had happened led to evacuations and other safety measures being delayed, or the heroic actions of those trying to contain the nuclear inferno. Although some did so understanding the danger, others had little knowledge and no choice.

Yes, I got lost a few times amongst the nuclear physics lessons and the hundreds of Russian names, but overall this was an unlikely page turner.
Profile Image for SAM.
247 reviews5 followers
December 5, 2018
There’s a collection of poetry by Mario Petrucci called Heavy Water, which is about the Chernobyl disaster and centres mainly on the first responders and their suffering families. It’s beautiful, melancholic and an apt tribute. There’s also an accompanying documentary, which is equally as haunting. This started my interest in the Chernobyl saga.

History of a Tragedy is an in depth look, from beginning to end, of the explosion of reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 but focuses more on the construction and the politics of the aftermath. The section on the explosion is meticulously detailed and gives a coherent chain of events. It’s fascinating and reads like a fictional thriller and horror story.

It’s difficult to review a non-fiction book of this kind because it is what it is and waffling on for another 300 words won’t give any greater insights. For me, this wasn’t what i wanted from a Chernobyl book. What i really wanted was more on the victims and the ‘liquidators’ but about a third of the book is a chronicle of the political implications of the disaster and after a while it become boring to read. I understand its importance but at times it didn’t make interesting reading.

I have since bought Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich, which is a series of first hand accounts by the victims.
Profile Image for Mircea Petcu.
85 reviews13 followers
January 6, 2022
Serhii Plokhy explica foarte bine cauzele si consecintele dezastrului de la Cernobal.

Pe 25 februarie 1986, in cadrul congresului care l-a inscaunat, Gorbaciov a tinut un discurs-maraton de 6 ore. O singura data a folosit cuvantul "perestroika" (restructurare). In acel moment nu se punea problema de restructurare, Cuvantul cel mai folosit de liderii comunisti era "uskorenie" (accelerare). Economia nu avea probleme structurale, considerau ei, ci doar trebuia impinsa putin de la spate. Dupa Cernobil, Gorbaciov s-a convins ca lucrurile nu mai pot continua astfel, si ca trebuiau adoptate reforme radicale. Stim cu ce rezultate. Dezastrul de la Cernobil a avut o contributie majora la prabusirea Imperiul Sovietic.
Profile Image for Hendrik.
407 reviews74 followers
June 16, 2019
Eine spannende und detaillierte Chronologie der Reaktorkatastrophe von Tschernobyl. Die Informationen über physikalische Grundlagen, Funktionsweise und Aufbau der sowjetischen Graphitreaktoren, sowie die politischen Strukturen des Machtapparats sind auch für Laien gut verständlich. Neben den unmittelbaren Auswirkungen der Katastrophe, wirft das Buch auch einen Blick auf deren geopolitische Folgen, die bis zum derzeitigen Russland-Ukraine-Konflikt reichen. Fazit: Ein Sachbuch das nichts zu wünschen übrig lässt. (Insbesondere allen Zuschauern der HBO-Serie "Chernobyl" empfohlen, die sich in die Materie vertiefen möchten.)
Profile Image for Leah.
1,355 reviews205 followers
April 27, 2018
Causes and effects...

On 26 April 1986 the no.4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine exploded. In this book, Plokhy sets out to explain why and how this disaster occurred, and to look at the fallout, both actual and political, that followed. Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University. The book begins with him visiting the present-day Chernobyl site, now a kind of macabre tourist venue, with the destroyed reactor buried in its own specially designed sarcophagus.

He then takes us back in time, to the Soviet Congress of 1986, when the newly elected Mikhail Gorbachev set out to change the direction of the USSR from military might through the long-standing arms race to becoming an economic powerhouse. This led to dramatic increases in targets for the building of nuclear power plants and for the amount of energy to be produced, all on ridiculously short time-frames. Plokhy goes even further back to show the early slipshod development of nuclear power plants in the USSR. While some people already had safety concerns, they were living under a regime that didn't welcome dissent, and so mostly these were not passed up the line or were ignored when they were.

Having set the technical and political background, Plokhy then recounts in detail the events that led up to the disaster – a series of technical and management failures, mostly caused by the time pressures and targets forced on the plant. He gives a vivid account of the immediate aftermath, when it was unclear how devastating the accident had been, and when men were sent in to investigate without adequate equipment to protect themselves or even to accurately measure the radiation. Denial became a feature of the whole thing – both official denials by the government, trying to hide the scale of the accident from their own people and from international governments; and the more human denial, of people caught up in the disaster, unable or unwilling to believe that they couldn't somehow put the genie back in the bottle – that things had spiralled beyond their control. Plokhy shows clearly how the regime's culture of holding individuals culpable as scapegoats for systemic failures led to a lack of openness, which in turn delayed necessary actions like evacuation which would have saved at least some lives.

Plokhy goes on to show the political aftermath, suggesting that the disaster played a major role in the break-up of the Soviet Union a few years later. And he finishes with a heartfelt plea to the international community to act to prevent such disasters in the future by monitoring and rigorously inspecting nuclear facilities, especially in countries with authoritarian governments where there is a culture of blame that prevents people expressing safety concerns.

I found this an interesting and informative read, and felt Plokhy handled the technical side of the story well. He simplified it enough for my non-technical brain to grasp the main points, but there are plenty of facts and figures in there for those with a greater understanding of the science of nuclear power. In terms of style, he tries to get a balance between the politics, the technological aspects and the individual people caught up in the events, and to a large degree he manages this well. However, I did find the book occasionally got bogged down in giving too much biographical detail about some individuals – more than I felt was necessary for the purpose of the book. In contrast, I found as the book went on there was a tendency to deal in numbers rather than people, so that the book didn't have quite the emotional punch I was expecting. Regulars will know I'm not one for a lot of emoting in factual books, but I did feel with this one that I began to view the outcomes as statistical rather than as a tragedy with a human face.

And I found the somewhat polemical chapters at the end rather simplistic, in truth. While I wouldn't at all argue with the need for monitoring, I'm not convinced that, firstly, authoritarian states would welcome international interference and, secondly, that we in the oh-so-superior democratic west have a much better record in either safety or encouraging openness. Seems to me we do a pretty good line in “blame culture” ourselves. However, I agree with Plokhy's basic argument – that this technology with such vast potential for disaster should be subject to international scrutiny, since radiation respects no borders.

Overall then, despite a few criticisms, I found this a well-presented and worthwhile read that shows clearly the links between policy and technology and the dangers when the two are not working in synch. Recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Allen Lane, via Amazon Vine UK.

Profile Image for Tanabrus.
1,829 reviews156 followers
November 13, 2021
Una lettura dolorosa e angosciante, ma necessaria.

Ovviamente non posso ricordare niente in prima persona di questo disastro, so solo che all'epoca avevo due anni e mia madre evitava di farmi uscire in giardino, o anche solo di prendere verdura per paura di contaminazioni dovute alla pioggia.

Sono cresciuto sapendo bene o male cosa fosse successo, cioè il disastro nucleare, e con la consapevolezza che ogni estate venivano ospitati dalla parrocchia dei ragazzini provenienti da Chernobyl stessa. Ragazzi all'incirca della mia età, che però il destino aveva marchiato in maniera crudele.

Chernobyl è tornata a farsi viva nei miei riguardi un paio di anni fa con la straziante serie trasmessa su Sky, che infine mi ha spinto a recuperare questo libro.
Un libro che raccoglie interviste, documenti desecretati e comunicati ufficiali, miscelando il tutto nella narrazione degli eventi che dalla costruzione della centrale portano al suo spegnimento, passando ovviamente per il più grande disastro nucleare della storia umana.

Un ottimo libro, per quel che posso valutare, che mostra con crudezza come determinati lati del regime sovietico abbiano portato a questa conclusione: il terrore di non soddisfare le aspettative dei vertici del partito, l'impossibilità di esprimere un'opinione contraria, la scarsità di risorse abbinata alla necessità e al desiderio di fare sempre di più, l'abitudine a distogliere lo sguardo e a convincersi che la realtà sia diversa da ciò che si è appena visto, e conforme invece ai dettami del partito.
Mostra eroismi consapevoli e inconsapevoli, rivalità meschine e opportunismi.

Mostra anche come proprio questo disastro abbia svolto un ruolo assai importante e imprevedibile nel crollo dell'Unione.

L'unica pecca che trovo al libro, ecco, è proprio in questa parte finale delle "conseguenze", un po' troppo pesante e lenta.

Fa venire qualche brivido di paura invece l'epilogo...
Profile Image for Lada Moskalets.
308 reviews41 followers
May 25, 2019
Чорнобиль став якщо не формуючим, то принаймні постійно присутнім досвідом покоління народжених в добу Перебудови і читати книжки про нього варто саме тому, що вони допомагають зрозуміти це покоління. Плохій виводить історію Чорнобиля на глобальний політичний рівень, показуючи, як питання атомної енергетики від всесоюзної технічної катастрофи стало проблемою українського страждання та національного самовизначення.
Але мені сподобалося найбільше інше. Книжка Плохія - це історія Чорнобиля здебільшого, з точки зору високопосадовців та осіб, які були причетні до керування станцією. Це радше історія зверху, аніж знизу, але попри те цікава і близька нам. Автор показує болісний процес прийняття кожного рішення, здійснення кожної помилки, але при цьому автор максимально намагається зрозуміти головних героїв. Він показує директорів, пожежників та дослідників як звичайних людей, зі своїми сотками картоплі, дачами і дружинами. Кожен їхній вчинок зумовлений не зловмисництвом, а балансуванням між потребою щось зробити в умовах браку інформації та тиску зверху робити все швидко і негайно. Місце в ієрархії визначало дуже багато, як і вагання і побоювання старших колег, так і ставлення до підлеглих.
З одного боку Чорнобиль був про масовий і безкорисливий героїзм тисяч людей, з іншого - про приховування інформації про загрози від умовного Заходу та своїх громадян. Але, знову ж таки, автор не таврує “погану партійну номенклатуру”, а пробує пояснити як суспільна ситуація формувала їхні рішення.

Дві події, які найбільше вразили:
- 1 травнева демонстрація найбільш жахливий момент, коли уже відомі загрози радіації і відома ситуація на Хрещатику, але людей, які ні про що не підозрюють, виводять на парад - бо треба захистити честь СРСР і п��казати що ситуація під контролем.
- багатотисячна демонстрація 1988 року проти замовчування проблем Чорнобиля - навіть, якщо забути про її політичне значення, це мав бути незабутній досвід для учасників.

*Після цієї книжки легко зненавидіти Горбачова, хоча його постать у колективній історичній пам’яті досить позитивна.
*знайшла фактичну помилку - наприклад про трьох людей, які у водолазних костюмах відкачували воду з-під реактора, щоб запобігти другому вибуху - вони не загинули, а вижили. Але підказують, що в paperback це вже виправлено
*безмежний ��еспект історику, який розібрався у всіх технічних деталях катастрофи та особливостях вимірювання радіації
Profile Image for Boudewijn.
634 reviews73 followers
April 14, 2020
A rigorously research but above all very moving account of the Chernobyl disaster

When on 28 April 1986 an alarm kept going off in a Swedish power plant it was the first sign that something was seriously wrong. All signs were pointing to Russia, but initially Russia flatly denied that something very bad had happened. After a few days, when more and more radioactivity was detected, Russia could not keep its secret anymore: there had been an incident at the nuclear power plant near Chernobyl, in the Ukraine.

Serhii Plokhy’s account is the first comprehensive history from the explosion to the closing of the plant in December 2000. The first thing I noticed is that he - despite all the nuclear science - never loses sight of the human picture, or tragedy that occurred,

A human tragedy it ws. I was haunted by the story of the plant’s director, who was the ultimate scapegoat. Although he did bore some responsibility, he was in effect used to distract the attention to the deeper causes of the accident: the fact that there were some serious design flaws in the type of nuclear reactor used in Chernobyl.

The real heroes of the story were the firemen, who were sent onto the roof of the reactor building, kicking off highly radioactive graphite along the way. Already after a few hours, they were showing the signs of acute radio active poisoning.

In the meantime, the Soviet authorities tried to keep the matter under the lid. After a long delay, they finally agreed to the evacuation of the people and did not even try to prevent the May parades in Kiev even though they knew there was a risk of radiation.

In the end, the seeds of the Soviet collapse were sown in Chernobyl, as the ecologic disaster was quickly turned into a debate about independence. The rest is history.

And Chernobyl? It is estimated that a further 4,000 - 90,000 will have died of radiation causes since. The area surrounding the reactor will not be safe for human habitation for at least another 20,000 years.
Profile Image for Anne ✨ Finds Joy.
277 reviews66 followers
January 6, 2019
This is a recent release (2018), in which expert Serhii Plokhy writes a hugely expanded and comprehensive look at the Chernobyl disaster from it's beginnings in 1986 up to current day concerns. I learned so much that I didn't realize had happened in the aftermath. I felt shock, sadness, and anger at the government's mishandling, ignorance, deceit, and lack of concern for the people living in the vicinity/involved in the aftermath, who were all exposed to unbelievably high levels of radiation.

This book is extremely detailed, with a lot of political perspective. While some readers might feel this book has more depth than they'd want, Plokhy reminds us of just how important it is for this information to be revisited and given a wider audience today. There's about 450 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries today, and 50 new plants are being built in 15 countries, including China, India, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. The risk for history to repeat itself is great if not enough attention is paid to what's going on with these plants/in these countries.
Profile Image for Laura.
618 reviews121 followers
July 2, 2019
Exhaustively researched and very well written account of the events leading up to the Chernobyl disaster, the event itself and the aftermath.
Profile Image for Rosemary Standeven.
747 reviews39 followers
July 1, 2019
When Chernobyl exploded, I was very relieved to be back home in New Zealand, and far away from Europe, where I had been living up until only two months previously. With the new information now available, it is horrifying to see just how close Europe, as a whole, came to nuclear devastation. It is a testament to the extreme heroism of the Soviet Union firefighters, soldiers, miners and nuclear power scientists and workers that such a catastrophe was averted. But, at the same time, it was the political flaws in the hide-bound, autocratic Soviet system that made the crisis more likely to occur in the first place. It is the political dimension that this book focuses on –relating to both the causes, and the aftermath of Chernobyl, for the Soviet Union and the entire world.
A year later I was back in Europe (London), and Chernobyl was not so much in the news. Then in October 1987 I went to see the play “Sarcophagus” by Pravda science editor Vladimir Gubaryev, and learnt a lot more about the Chernobyl nuclear plant, its construction and the immediate aftermath. Much of what was in the play is also covered in the book – the rushed construction to meet deadlines, the inferior and defective quality of the construction materials, the effects of radioactivity on the local population, workers and people initially drafted into to fight the fire and explosion. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent opening up of access to information as well as the passing of time (not to mention the restrictions imposed by a play compared to the relative freedom of prose), the book is able to go into much more detail.
The book makes a big thing about the secrecy and cover-ups surrounding the events at Chernobyl by the Party in Moscow, but the play “Sarcophagus” with its criticisms of Soviet industry and the response to Chernobyl – published and performed in Russia (as well as in the West) with the consent of the Party – was not mentioned. The Soviet nuclear industry was a matter of national and ideological pride, and so its safety could not be called into question, and any problems should particularly not be broadcast to the West – until denial was no longer an option.
Secrecy surrounding the nuclear industry is not confined to the Soviet Union. The Windscale reactor in Britain had numerous accidents – the worst a major fire in 1957 with the release of radioactivity across Europe. No-one was evacuated, and for many years the only admission of contamination was in milk produced nearby – which was destroyed for only one month afterwards. As a teenager, I read a lot about the nuclear industry, and what I read in the 1970’s about Windscale’s ‘accidents’ convinced me that nuclear power was safe. Windscale’s name was changed to Sellafield, most likely to avoid continued association with nuclear accidents, and is only now (June 2019) being decommissioned. Chernobyl was a great wake-up call – to me and the rest of the world – and Fukushima was a not-so-gentle reminder. The risks involved in using nuclear power can be minimised, with constant vigilance, continual up-dating of safety measures, high quality construction and adequate financing, and an open, fear-free working environment. But, nuclear power will never be fully safe.
The book charts the entire history of the nuclear industry at Chernobyl (and elsewhere in the USSR), the people involved, choices of reactor, decisions made that had later disastrous consequences, the cost-cutting, and most of all the ideology that made the abnegation of responsibility and scapegoating routine. The actual explosion and fire at Chernobyl are dealt with in detail, as is are the attempts at containment, and clean up, with the evacuation(s) of local inhabitants. The book then goes on to consider the political fallout from Chernobyl on the breakup of the Soviet Union. I started to skim through this section, but then paid it more attention, as it explained at least some of the ongoing poor relationship and distrust between Ukraine and Russia.
This is a very readable book, with a wealth of well-researched information that gives a historical background to the crisis and important lessons for the future. These can be summed up in three quotes:
The causes of the Chernobyl meltdown are very much in evidence today. Authoritarian rulers pursuing enhanced or great-power status—and eager to accelerate economic development and overcome energy and demographic crises, while paying lip service to ecological concerns—are more in evidence now than they were in 1986.
The most crucial lesson is the importance of counteracting the dangers posed by nuclear nationalism and isolationism and of ensuring close international cooperation between countries developing nuclear projects. This lesson is especially important today, when the forces of populism, nationalism, and anti-globalism are finding more adherents in a world that relies increasingly on nuclear technology for the production of energy.
While world attention is focused on the nonproliferation of nuclear arms, an equally great danger looms from the mismanagement of “atoms for peace” in the developing world.
Profile Image for Athan Tolis.
309 reviews572 followers
June 12, 2018
As luck would have it, right about as I was finishing “Chernobyl” yesterday, I was invited to dine with my friend Gleb’s daddy, Peter, a veteran of the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, the innocuous name Beria allegedly chose for the Soviet equivalent of the Manhattan Project.

With author Serhii Plokhy’s conclusions fresh in my mind, I put the question to him: who was to blame for Chernobyl? He did not hesitate: “culture” he answered. When the political decision was made to transfer responsibility for the nuclear reactors from their creators to the Ministry of Energy and Electrification, the authorities failed to also transfer the zero tolerance culture that had prevailed amongst the originators of the program.

Perhaps that’s an oversimplification and perhaps it’s a case of one man talking his book, but it’s an interpretation that I’m prepared to believe, because the one biggest shock you get from reading this well-researched tome is culture shock:

“Chernobyl” transports you from our world to the Soviet Union, a dark place where your personal target is to get promoted and your most important imperative is to make your boss look good.

To make him look good, in turn, your best option is to put pressure on whatever resources you have under your command. And if to make him look good you need to execute a testing procedure under imperfect conditions, well, so be it.

The book is a lot about people: you get to meet all the men in the control room, the firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice, the scientists and the cleaners. You meet the twin bosses of the plant (both the scientist and --alarm bells!—the builder) the local head of the party, the KGB, the military, pretty much everybody up to Mikhail Gorbachev.

There’s heroes and villains here and the heroes are invariably tragic heroes: from the simple men who picked up with their bare hands the radioactive graphite bars that flew out of the exploding reactor to the scientists who ran toward danger in reactor 4 to the men and women who sailed as close as possible to their mandate when advocating evacuation, these were people who put their self-interest second. The villains come in two flavors: those (Gorbachev included!) who jumped to protect the system, and largely paid for it, and those who had a knack for sailing with the wind.

Watching the latter shift from singing the praises of nuclear energy to becoming advocates of the environment and national sovereignty and from there back to arguing for energy sufficiency is probably the most sickening part of the book, roentgens and rems notwithstanding.

But this is a comprehensive book: you find out about the reactor, its operators, the politics of the country it was built in, the mechanics of the explosion, the frantic efforts to control the fallout, the tragic effect on the neighboring population, and ultimately Chernobyl’s profound effect on the politics of the Ukraine and the Soviet Union itself.

The conclusion is that Chernobyl had a decisive contribution toward ending the Soviet Union.

I must say I was convinced.
Profile Image for Meredith.
531 reviews1 follower
September 4, 2018
This is a comprehensive history of the Chernobyl nuclear power station reactor No. 4 and the explosion that destroyed it. It provides real human stories and characters of those affected by the accident, explains how the aftermath of the accident and enraged populace created the new independent republic of the Ukraine, and why Russia has gotten away with so much nonsense with respect to Ukraine in the intervening 32 years since the explosion.
On the plus side, the book deals directly with the human tragedy of the accident, and provides some thought provoking ideas about the present move toward nuclear power plant construction in the Middle East and China. And very importantly, it also doesn’t blame the technology of nuclear power for the accident. Instead the blame is very squarely placed on a weak reactor design without appropriate safety measures and the mind-numbing bureaucracy of the communist state that demanded quotas and ignored human safety in favour of shielding of the political elite, underpinned by threatening KGB interference. And refreshingly, nowhere in the book is ‘climate change’ mentioned, even though it must be said that nuclear power is a zero-emission source.
But I would have enjoyed this book more if it has explored more of the technical part of the story...such as how the reactor actually works, how it differs from other types of reactor around the world, maybe a diagram or two, and an explicit walk-through of the events leading to the failure. But if you don’t care about that and only want to read about the political history, then this book will suffice.
On the negative side, if you’re at all interested in the technology, you’ll find this book very wanting. Firstly, the author mixes up energy and power. The megawatt is not a measure of energy. Although this is grade ten physics, it is a common mistake among laypeople, and it is absolutely not an acceptable error from a book written explicitly on the subject of power generation. Such a glaring error, used so repeatedly as it was in this book, made me hesitate to trust any of the author’s statements elsewhere, at least as far as the science goes. Speaking of which, there are a few howlers, most notably that the area around Chernobyl will be “unsafe for human habitation for the next 20 000 years”. Nature just doesn’t work that way. Animals are living and thriving there and plants are growing now with no ill effects, you can safely take a tour of the old reactor site with just your street clothes on, and you can even adopt a stray dog from Chernobyl.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,550 reviews473 followers
March 18, 2019
I vaguely remember the Chernobyl disaster. I remember hearing about it on the news and being scared. That’s about it. Plokhy’s history rectifies that.

The book opens with the Swedish discovery of the disaster and includes a detailed account of the disaster itself. Not only the events leading up to it but the human cost of those who fought the faire without knowing fully the risk they were taking. The first tragedy is what happens to the firefighters.

But the book isn’t just a detailed account of the day of. Plokhy traces the development of the plant, the conflict between local and Soviet authorities, the impact on literature, and, of course, the lives of those who lived in the immediate zone, who were forced to leave home for what turned out to be forever.

Chernobyl is now more commonly seen as a place that has gone back to nature, but Plokhy’s book shows us the terrifying reason why that happened. The story is part politics, part science, part accident, but tragedy for those who lived through it. The fallout also occurs when an intrepid reporter discovers that the resettlements are quite as safe as they should be.

Plokhy’s description about how the Soviet and international press reported the incident is also very interesting. Part of the response comes with from a competitive drive with the US and the rest of the West, but also to fit into a larger Soviet narrative. This is true when it comes to every aspect of the incident and how the government and the people responded to it.

Ralph Lister’s narration is excellent.
439 reviews
June 25, 2018
It just so happened that I saw several ARCs on Amazon vine in short succession one after another. This book is one of them. It was a little weird to realize that people are now writing comprehensive histories of the event I lived through, but hey, 32 years passed, so I guess it *is* history by now.

First and foremost, it is a superbly researched and yes, quite comprehensive history of the catastrophe, what lead to it and how it affected the situation in the Soviet Union and eventually dissolution of such.

I fully expected that it will be hard for me to get through the book , what I did not expect was that for most of the book blind rage was the main emotion that I felt.

See, while I knew a lot of the events the author describes and remembered some of them ( I am from Kiiv and lived there for over the decade after Chernobyl happened), I did not know the extent of the incompetence which Communist party leadership demonstrated while dealing with the fallout. Neither did I know how many defective materials were used while building the reactors for the decade before the catastrophe even took place . In fact it was shocking that nothing happened earlier than 1986.

I agree with the author that overall economic regime in the Soviet Union vastly contributed to what happened as well. Instead of paying more attention to safety, let's build more reactors and faster, FASTER.

And when disaster hit, all these young guys sacrificed in incompetent attempts to stop, to do something. As horrible as it sounds, first responders at least went to stop the fire. It sounded as if the throwing the sand on the reactor was unnecessary and even harmful, so the pilots who did it, badly hurt, those who managed to survive and those who died , pretty much died for nothing.
And then the managers on site who tried to contain the aftermath, for better or worse they at least tried and they were the ones whom regime convicted - already physically sick from radiation, and emotionally unstable.

And Jesus, the May 1 parade in Kiiv - of course I remembered that day, of course once we were told that explosion took place our parents understood pretty fast that it is dangerous and we left the city for summer , thank goodness that we had the place to go to. But they decided to have that freaking parade, and people were told almost nothing till several days after. And this book lists the radiation on the main street in Kiev as 2500 microrentgen per hour. Yep, rage was all that I managed to feel indeed and this is 32 years later.

So many people dead, so many people still ill ( apparently one in sixth Ukrainians who lived there) still complains of poor health. So many kiddos born with birth defects. Thousands cases of thyroid cancer.

It is a very well written book and I am glad I soldiered through but I know I won't be able to reread it ever. I know it is an emotional and incoherent vent about the event itself, but here you go. Sorry guys.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,114 reviews
July 10, 2019
I can still vividly remember the time we in the West first heard about a nuclear accident behind the Iron Curtain. Reports were appearing about a massive rise in radiation with denials from European states and a collective finger pointing to an accidental release somewhere in the USSR. At the height of the cold war, very little was confirmed on denied by the Soviets, but pressure built on the Kremlin and they began to reveal details of just what had happened in the Ukraine. It wasn’t an accidental release of a small amount of radiation that flowed across northern Europe, rather it was the aftermath of a reactor exploding at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

And it could have been so much worse.

What exactly happened on that fateful night of 26 April 1986 when at 1.23am the reactor exploded has never been fully known. The Soviets didn’t even release any details for a few days until pressure from around the world with the overwhelming evidence meant that they couldn’t do anything else but reveal the problem. Even then details were still sketchy and cold hard facts were very rare, not helped by the endemic secrecy and paranoia of the USSR. Slowly though, the facts surfaced and it was realised just how close we were to a European wide environmental catastrophe.

What actually happened all those years ago though? Thankfully Serhii Plokhy has been trawling the recently opened archives in search of the truth, finding out who was blamed and who actually was a fault for the disaster. He covers the flaws in the design or the reactor and the powerplay between the Kremlin and KGB as some scientists tried to tell the truth to the world. We hear the stories of those who gave their lives to stop it getting any worse and about the families who had almost no notice before they were told to leave the rapidly created exclusion zone.

At times it reads like a thriller, in particular, the event of that night and the schemes that they were using to contain the radiation and stop further explosions. Other time the narrative slows as you follow the convoluted and inept officials who seem more concerned with ensuring their arses were covered. He takes a wider look at the history of the region too, linking the events here to the eventual collapse of the Soviet state and the splintering into separate Eastern block countries and how the Ukrainians have been behind the eco-movement in the former block. Occasionally I got a little bogged down with all the people involved but apart from that this is an excellent modern history of a nuclear disaster.
Profile Image for Martin.
105 reviews9 followers
May 17, 2019
Zunächst eine kurze Bemerkung zum Autor: Serhii Plokhy ist ukrainischer Abstammung und auch dort sozialisiert. Dementsprechend verwundert es auch kaum, dass die vorliegende Abhandlung über Tschernobyl, perspektivisch sehr viel aus ukrainischer Sicht erzählt ist. Dies schmälert jedoch die Leistung dieses Unterfangens nicht im Geringsten, es soll lediglich zu Beginn festgehalten werden.

Das mit dem Erscheinungsjahr 2018 noch sehr aktuelle Werk von Plokhy geht nicht nur auf die Reaktorkatastrophe selbst ein, sondern beleuchtet mit dem Einfluss des militärisch-industriellen Komplexes und der Marschroute hin zu mehr Nuklearenergie auch den Weg dorthin sowie, nach einer allgemeinen Aufarbeitung der Katastrophe, die Auswirkungen auf die Ukraine bis hin zur Unabhängigkeit und danach. Trotz der Breite dieses Spektrums geht Plokhy in den einzelnen Abschnitten angenehm in die Tiefe. Eine besondere Rolle spielen für ihn die dramatis personae, man erfährt viel über die Hintergründe der direkt und indirekt beteiligten Personen. Gerade Gorbatschow kommt in diesem Buch nicht wirklich gut weg, obwohl die Auswirkungen von glassnost und perestroika beleuchtet werden, so bleibt doch ein Schatten hängen bei der Nachgeschichte der Reaktorkatastrophe.

Im letzten Teil wird auch ein wenig klarer, wieso die Ukraine für die EU eine vergleichsweise große Rolle spielt und welches politische Spiel die Ukraine teilweise mit dem Westen und Russland gespielt hat. Für Leser, die an einer umfassenden Geschichte über Tschernobyl interessiert sind dürfte dieses Werk eine interessante Lektüre darstellen, die sich noch dazu ziemlich gut und kurzweilig liest.

Nach der Lektüre sind mir zwei Erkenntnisse besonders hängen geblieben: Das die für die Fehlkonstruktion des Reaktors verantwortlichen nie zur Rechenschaft gezogen wurden ist sehr bedauerlich; ermöglicht wird dies auch dadurch, dass die Ukraine nach der Unabhängigkeit keinen Zugriff auf die verantwortlichen Russen hatte. Und zweitens stellt Plokhy als eine der Quellen ein bedrückendes Amateurvideo vor, dass am 26./27. April 1986 in Pripyat gedreht wurde, also unmittelbar nach der Explosion des Kraftwerks (Video auf Youtube hier: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpEma...). Zu sehen sind zunächst noch Hochzeiten und ihren Alltag lebende Menschen, allerdings bereits umgeben von Soldaten mit Dosimetern. Am Ende des Videos sind dann Bilder von der Evakuierung Pripyats zu sehen. Die für den Menschen unsichtbare Radioaktivität ist auf Film bereits durch weiße Flecken erkennbar.

Summa summarum ein gut lesbares Buch, das von mir eine klare Empfehlung für jeden an der Thematik Tschernobyl interessierten Leser erhält.
Profile Image for Tomas Bella.
192 reviews403 followers
July 16, 2019
Úplne nové zhrnutie Černobyľskej katastrofy od ukrajinsko-amerického historika. Oproti množstvu iných kníh tri rozdiely:
1. Žiadne rozprávky o tom, ako sa asi kto cítil a čo si asi myslel - zdrojom sú dokumenty, postavy sú v rámci možností vykreslené ako naozajstní ľudia, ale nie povymýšľané (Pozeráme sa na teba, HBO!), je to vecné, hutné a pritom čítavé. (Pre komplexný emočný zážitok odporúčam čítať najskôr toto a až potom Alexijevičovú.)
2. Celý Černobyľ je dohraný až do súčasnosti, príbeh nekončí uhasením reaktoru ani súdnym procesom, ale ruskou anexiou Krymu. O tom, ako súvisí Černobyľ s jadrovými zbraňami a potom tou anexiou ste možno vedeli, o tom, ako bol presne katalyzátorom politických zmien až samostatnosti Ukrajiny asi nie.
3. Je tu veľmi málo fyziky. Čiže kto doteraz nechápal, čo sa vlastne v reaktore stalo, je veľká šanca, že pochopí. Kto chce detailnú fyziku, nebude spokojný.
Vyšlo aj v češtine.
869 reviews32 followers
June 28, 2018
Everyone should read this book.

There is nothing that went wrong in the chain of events before, during and after the reactor exploded at Chernobyl which could not or would not happen today.

The stakes are too high for vested interests to be trusted basically, even leaving aside concerns such as natural disasters, terrorism etc.

This meticulous history is also riveting reading. Plokhy should consider a secondary career writing thrillers.
Profile Image for Adam Ford.
13 reviews7 followers
June 14, 2019
Brilliant. Best book on the subject that I've read. Review to follow.
Profile Image for Cleo.
84 reviews197 followers
September 17, 2019
Interesting information but the writing wasn't the most engaging. There also was quite a bit of detailed Ukrainian history (perhaps not surprising from an author who is an expert in Ukranian history) that I didn't think was pertinent to the story given the title of the book. Perhaps 3 1/2 stars but no more.
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