Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by Serhii Plokhy

Before reading this book had I heard of Chernobyl. I knew the word and knew that there was a major nuclear disaster there. Did I know anything else about this catastrophe? Nothing. After reading this, I feel I have been studying this disaster for months. This book is so well researched but written in a very clear and logical manner.

The book follows the disaster from the construction of the plant to the cleanup efforts. He introduces key players in the disaster and has even interviewed some of them. He also gives readers some back story into how the USSR was run, the political workings of the party, and why the USSR was even building nuclear reactors at that time. He gives a sober, pretty even view of the disaster. Thought the author is Ukrainian, I feel he didn’t report about Chernobyl in a biased manner.

When it got into the later chapters of the book where he did tie the Chernobyl history into the movement freedom, some may argue some of his bias might’ve come out. It was interesting how the ecological movement was the start of and later merged into an independence movement. I believe that this is a vulnerability of the current CCP regime in China. It’s difficult to argue the environment is not important to people or stop people from wishing for, or even agitating for their government to ‘care’ about the environment.

Once I had finished the book I wanted to see real pictures of Chernobyl so I hit the internet, more specifically YouTube. I was amazed at the footage you can find. You can find footage from the time in Pryiat, the town setup to house workers right beside the powerplant. You can find footage of the firefighters running out on the roof of Chernobyl and using shovels to throw radioactive debris off the roof. You can find later footage of the ’elephant’s foot’, the radioactive sludge that is slowly melting its way deeper and deeper into the ground beneath Chernobyl. I even found a detailed video of the 2015 construction of a new cover for Chernobyl built by a French company. I am also going to watch the HBO mini-series Chernobyl. It looks really well done.

While watching the footage of Chernobyl and after reading the book, it shocked me that it seemed the world knew very little about how to deal with nuclear disasters and cleanups before Chernobyl. This disaster was a wakeup call to the world and every country that runs nuclear power plants about the danger and possiblity of a major ecological catastrophe if a reactor melts down. In the same way that Hiroshima taught the world about the power and devasation that nuclear weapons could wreak upon a city, Chernobyl taught us that the invisible killer of nuclear fallout is a silent killer.

I recommend this book for almost anyone interested in history and especially those interesting in doing a deep-dive into a world event that is almost as important as WW2 and certainly more important 9/11.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #81 in my 202X Reading Challenge

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