This historical recounting of nuclear disaster is, of course, as distressing and sad as you may expect, but where it shines is its unflinching look at the chain of completely avoidable and totally human mistakes that lead to the destruction of Reactor #4 at the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station, starting with the design process for the reactor decades before the disaster. There is plenty of blunt criticism for the secretive and toxic political culture of the former Soviet Union, but the criticism can be fairly extended to all organizations- public and private- that put image before reality and adopt an ends-justify-the-means ethic in their operations.
A couple of years ago, I read at the CIA's website that the spread of airborne nuclear waste from Chernobyl was so widespread, the only populated area of the planet that did NOT get trace amounts of fallout was the Falkland Islands. That certainly got my attention.
This is a detailed forensic account of what happened at the Chernobyl nuclear facility in 1986 (the result of a much delayed test of the reactor in question) and the aftermath, although written as much as possible in layperson's terms (including the makeup of the various isotopes of various atoms produced by nuclear bombardment, like strontium and deuterium); and why it took three days to report the accident to the world.
Also details how the neighbouring city of Pripyat - a city of plenty in a nation where rations were the expectation - became a ghost town overnight, while the city of Chernobyl itself was reduced to a skeletal population. One surprise that came out of the terrible affair is that the Soviet authorities were forced to admit a nearly identical accident had happened in 1957, but due to censorship was withheld from both the people as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency for nearly 30 years.
Gorbachev, who was a lame duck as soon as Chernobyl happened, now says that it is the accident in the Ukraine - not the inherent entropy of the Marxist system - that led to the collapse of the USSR. If anyone still feels that the generation of power by nuclear means is "safe," they will be disabused of that notion after reading this book.
Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the nuclear submarine Scorpion on which my ex was a nuclear technician and went on to get a degree in nuclear engineering. We started up the Westinghouse nuclear power plant in Japan that is one year younger than the Fukushima plant. I have long wanted to know the details of Chernobyl. This is a chilling tale of how many ways a disaster can happen & the decisions people in power make....good and bad. Also the heroic men who knew doing their jobs meant a death sentence. Some of the details had me gasping in horror....and fascination. I now need to revisit the movie The China Syndrome...who knew that this almost happened?! A must read. After I read the posting I noticed that it is dated May 23rd. Today is May 22nd...the sinking of the Scorpion.
Higginbotham sure did his research. He accounts for the development, use, and failure of the Unit 4 reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear site and the aftermath.
*limited resources to meet unrealistic goals
*Every accident at a nuclear station in the Soviet Union was state secret
*Originally when the reactor was complete the intricately installed heat exchanger, which included temperature sensors, was never turned on.
*In deciding on whether to evacuate or not two renowned scientists drew up a written and signed statement of their opinion. It was then locked in a safe and disregarded.
*The reactor core was destroyed. 7 tons of uranium fuel, pieces of control rods, zirconium channels, and graphite blocks pulverized and released into the atmosphere forming aerosols containing radioisotopes, iodine 131, neptunium, cesium, strontium, plutonium.
The after effects were largely unreported and minimized.
A great follow-up book is Voices from Chernobyl:The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster in which you hear first hand accounts of those whose lives were forever altered.
A shocking and enlightening read about the worst nuclear disaster in human history. Told in an easy-to-read storytelling style, Higganbotham details out the events of that night, and the thirty years that follow, with abundance of research from both archival and first-person sources. However, as he points out, this chapter of history is far from over.....
Gripping and fascinating—especially on the long aftermath of the accident. Incredibly relevant today when nuclear may be our best option to slow down global warming. Please read this!!
An absolutely chilling account of one of the three worst reactor accidents in history. I remember the Chernobyl incident and the whole 'it was incompetent cowboy operators' narrative. I'm appalled at the deeper narrative this book outlines and just how close we came to an accident that would have rendered a wide swathe of Europe--west, central and east--uninhabitable.
Truly astonishing. If there were any lingering doubts about the dysfunctional Soviet system, this should lay them to rest. And it should make abundantly clear, there will be no surviving a nuclear war beyond the most circumscribed battlefields.
If nuclear power is the future, so is Chernobyl.
An extremely readable account of an absolutely horrifying event.
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