Award-winning author and Harvard history professor Serhii Plokhy unravels the political and industrial mistakes and obfuscations that resulted in the worst nuclear disaster in world history, the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine on April 26, 1986.
The Ukrainian-born Plokhy — now a Harvard history professor — was a student living less than 300 miles from the site in 1986 and this book has a strong personal angle. Using new archive material, it is also a work of deep scholarship and powerful storytelling. Plokhy is a master of the telling detail ... Plokhy’s description of brave men with no protection walking on what was left of the burning reactor hall is horrifying ... Plokhy is convinced there will be more Chernobyls. Despite headlines about nuclear weapons in North Korea or Iran, the greater danger to the world, he insists, is from nuclear energy in developing countries, where most of the reactors are being built and where ambitious dictators will be prepared to cut corners in pursuit of economic growth and relatively cheap energy. It’s a ghastly prognosis, and even if not entirely persuasive, so well argued that it is highly plausible.
Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe shows how the nuclear energy sector and the political system were largely discredited. It is no coincidence that the Soviet Union collapsed a mere five years later. Mr. Plokhy, who teaches Ukrainian history at Harvard, mercilessly chronicles the absurdities of the Soviet system and the arrogance of its apparatchiks. But the fact that he grew up fewer than 500 kilometers south of Chernobyl probably accounts for his vividly empathetic descriptions of the people on the ground—the plant managers and employees, the firefighters, soldiers and others—who risked their lives to contain the damage.
Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy is a lucid account of how the Soviet mania for nuclear power combined with endemic shoddiness in the industrial sector and near-paranoid habits of state secrecy led to the 1986 disaster ... Plokhy concentrates on the political fallout of Chernobyl in Ukraine, leaving little space for Russia and Belarus. This is a pity, because the political repercussions in Russia were far-reaching, while Belarus was by far the hardest-hit republic in terms of radioactive damage. But these do not detract from what is the most comprehensive, convincing history of Chernobyl yet to appear in English.