The Chernobyl Disasters
This week, the world observes the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The 26 April 1986 explosion at reactor 4 of the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant at Chernobyl, to the north of Kyiv, rates as one of the largest radiation contamination incidents in history(opens in a new tab), comparable to the Fukushima disaster in 2011 and the 1957 Kyshtym disaster(opens in a new tab).
But Chernobyl was not only a nuclear disaster, it was a political disaster, demonstrating the consequences of disinformation and the inability of an authoritarian system to handle a crisis. The entire chain of events was marred with disinformation:
- The fire fighters were never informed about the nuclear fallout, exposing them to lethal levels of radiation;
- Local authorities did not order an evacuation of the nearby town of Pripyat;
- Central Soviet authorities did not admit an incident until several days later – a nuclear power plant in Sweden(opens in a new tab) over one thousand kilometres away noted a spike in radiation levels and evacuated its staff
Eventually the authorities evacuated civilians, living in the vicinity of the power plant. Fire fighters, medical staff, soldiers, scientists were thrown into the disaster area with little or no equipment. There is no doubt about the heroism of the thousands of Chernobyl liquidators(opens in a new tab); just as there is no doubt about the cowardice and deceit of Soviet officials on all levels. The Soviet leadership’s attempt in 1986 to cover up the disaster was an act of violence against the peoples of the Soviet Union and of its neighbours. The HBO series Chernobyl(opens in a new tab) discribes in a dramatised version the disaster, the authorities’ reactions and the conseqences.