On April 26, 1986 an explosion occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine that spread mass quantities radioactive particles into the atmosphere. The plant experienced a power surge and when an emergency shutdown was attempted an even large spike in power occurred which caused the reactor to rupture. Over 40,000 people had to be evacuated from the nearby town of Pripyat (shown above), which has been a ghost town since the accident. Although only 37 people were killed in the explosion itself, it is estimated that over 100,000 people have died or suffered physical harm as a direct result of exposure to radiation from the accident.
The accident in Chernobyl became the Russian governments first real opportunity to take part in Glasnost. The country openly accepted international aid and the media was allowed to extensively cover and provide commentary on the event. This brief video from a documentary about Chernobyl involving Russians who witnessed the meltdown and its lingering effects shows how traumatic the event was at the time. It is estimated that the effort to contain the contamination spread by the accident cost over 18 billion rubles and required the work of hundreds of thousands of Russian laborers.
The most interesting perspective I found on the catastrophe was that of Russian journalist Stanislav Kondrashov. 3 weeks after the accident Kondrashov wrote an article about the political consequences that should be examined as a result of the tragedy in Chernobyl. He states that the political openness of Glasnost as shown by sympathy from the West was encouraging, but at the same time criticism over Soviet failure to rid nuclear weapons by the end of the 20th century was unnecessary and points out a gap in the language between socialism and communism. He concludes by saying that as unfortunate as the situation in Chernobyl was, “it gives all other countries opportunity to learn.” To learn about political cooperation, the dangers of nuclear proliferation, and the need for understanding among different ideologies.
The meltdown in Chernobyl is arguably the worst industrial nuclear accident in history and continues to haunt the Russian people. In a way, this nuclear failure was a precursor to the looming collapse awaiting the Soviet Union.
Picture source – http://dinadis.ua/media/13794/4.jpg