© 2014 Jimmy Jewett. All rights reserved.

Smoldering of the Soviet Union

Chernobyl Chernobyl Nuclear Reaction, Post – Meltdown


The Chernobyl nuclear accident is perhaps the most well-known and worst nuclear accident to have ever occurred. While many factors contributed to the blast, the most interesting aspect of Chernobyl is the way the Soviet Government reported on the incident. Although no one could predict the Soviet Union was just several years away from collapse, the way the government covered up the explosions was sure to have deteriorated any support of the government among Soviet citizens and certainly contributed to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union in 1991.

     In Pravda of May 1986, it was reported that no further nuclear reaction was occurring at the site and that the incident in question had only been a minor accident, not a catastrophic one. This article uses multiple scientific references and also discusses some of the actions that have taken place in order to smother the blast site. In typical Soviet fashion, the article blames the West for spreading false fears about the nuclear fallout and the potential damages radiation could continue to cause. Just one month after the blast, the Soviet Union had already taken steps in order to alleviate any worries about the dangers of nuclear and atomic production.

A September article from later that year reported on the final stages of the clean up of Chernobyl. In the months following the blast, scientists took big steps in attempting to contain, and eliminate any existing nuclear waste. Many feared the nearby fresh water sources would be contaminated permanently, and as such protecting water sources is a main focus of this article. Surprisingly, the report states several of the damaged reactors will be up and running again within the next two months. I found this shocking, as I believed the site went unused after the infamous blast. As the months continued, more controversial reports came out, specifically regarding the casualty toll of the blast.

A report from one year later significantly under-reported the amount of people effected by the Chernobyl accident. This article reported only 2 immediate deaths and just over 200 hundred other people who were supposedly treated for exposure to radiation. These numbers could not be further from the truth. In reality, it is believed 38 people died instantly on site. Since the Soviet Union did such a great job of covering up the incident, it has been difficult to fully access how many people were impacted in some way by the radioactive meltdown. Some estimates believe up to 100,000 people eventually died or suffered health issues from the blast. This drastic difference in reporting is why Chernobyl still remains such an well known and discussed event. The long term impacts of the meltdown created discussions about the real safety of nuclear weapons and reactors as well as whether it was worth the risk in order to boost military and economic power.

Finally, the question of how the government dealt with those guilty of causing the incident is yet another Soviet mystery. The last article answers this question, only claiming to know the trials will take place in the Ukraine. It is almost certain that some people were severely punished for the incident, even though the government itself probably deserved the majority of the blame. Overall the Chernobyl accident served as a reminder as to how dangerous and present nuclear technology was and alerted people to the potential dangers of the arms race towards the end of the Cold War.








  1. Kelly

    This is an interesting article. I like how you tied the incident back to the Cold War and the fear of what nuclear weapons could do. Good use of primary sources as well!

  2. mikegancio

    I really enjoyed how you tied the different news articles into your post. It’s no surprise the Soviets tried covering it up but it is still pretty amusing to go back and see just how absurdly the truth was twisted.

  3. GPittard

    Really doesn’t surprise me that the soviet government tried covering this up so much. The Soviet Union wanted to look like the cool kid on the block even though it was quite the opposite. Its quite pitiful the measures the USSR took to maintain face.

  4. Using the Soviet press to show how the reporting on the disaster changed in the months after the accident works really well. Good research for this post!

  5. Alex Apollonio

    It’s interesting to see how the Soviet government tried to manipulate knowledge about the incident, using the press. Reading about this incident in the past, people in the west were shocked that the Soviets acknowledged it at all, but the spikes in radiation, which could be measured all throughout northern Europe, were too much to avoid. They were obviously successful, as their numbers about the number of deaths are still often cited today.

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