Over the holiday break I finished Adam Higginbotham’s book on the Chernobyl accident of 1986. Higginbotham is a journalist who writes for prestigious publications such as the Telegraph, New York Times, etc. The book made the New York Times Top 10 Books of 2019 list. His writing is clear and he puts suspense into every chapter and so it was a difficult book to put down. I am now watching HBO’s Chernobyl series to compliment my understanding the accident.
I have been generally pro-nuclear energy, despite this accident, the Fukushima accident in Japan (where I lived for five years) and starting my teaching career in Nevada, where the US federal government was trying to put a nuclear waste storage facility under Yucca Mountain. I am fascinated with nuclear energy and always try to read about or visit nuclear energy plants when the opportunity arises. I like that it is a source of energy that does not contribute to global warming and is so far, the biggest alternative to traditional fossil fuels.
The cause of the accident at Chernobyl was the Soviet government. They did things as cheap as possible and had an unquestioning bureaucratic structure that did not promote a culture of excellence. I felt sorry for the plant workers having to deal with the flimsy and antique equipment and control systems. I am surprised more accidents didn’t happen in the ex-Soviet Union. Doing things on the cheap, especially when it comes to something as large and deadly as a nuclear reactor, is not a good idea.
The book and the HBO series vividly portray the invisible power of radiation. The tragic and horrible consequences of high dosages of radiation on humans and the environment are shocking. It is odd the delay in the effects of radiation and it would be more helpful to avoid it if one could see the deadly rays emitted by radioactive substances.
The delays in evacuation and stopping the exposed core are due to the Soviet system. There seemed to be a lot of fear, resignation and no challenging of authority. I see some of that living here in Uzbekistan, an ex-Soviet republic. It will take a long time for these countries to move past the effects of living under the Soviet system for such a long time. I read recently where with the help of Russia, Uzbekistan will be building a nuclear energy plant in the Navoi region (between Samarkand and Bukhara). I hope they have learned from the mistakes of Chernobyl.