A Gripping History of the Nuclear Disaster at Chernobyl

Historians in the News
tags: books, Chernobyl, nuclear history

WHEN A REACTOR at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded and burned 33 years ago, it generated a radioactive cloud that contaminated parts of the Soviet Union and Europe before dissipating.

But the accident also created a fog of misunderstanding and confusion — in large part the result of a deliberate coverup by Soviet authorities — that has been slower to lift. Even three decades later, thorough authoritative accounts of the world’s worst atomic-power disaster are few and far between.

A new book offers perhaps the clearest, and fullest, look at the catastrophe yet. Adam Higginbotham’s “Midnight in Chernobyl,” is a compelling and comprehensive account of one awful night in Ukraine and the consequences that were felt worldwide. Higginbotham’s observations, and his writing, are so sharp there is no need to overdo anything for dramatic effect. Told so clearly and in such detail, the story is dramatic — and horrific — enough.

The basics of the disaster are well known. During a badly conceived (and even more poorly executed) test at Chernobyl’s Unit No. 4 shortly after midnight on April 26, 1986, a sudden surge of power in the reactor caused it to blow apart. The resultant fire burned for days.

It took years, billions of rubles, and the back-breaking labor of hundreds of thousands of conscripted workers to contain the mess. More than 30 plant workers and firefighters were killed, most from radiation, and untold thousands more suffered health effects. A thousand square miles of territory still remain off limits due to radioactive contamination.

Read entire article at Undark

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