April 26, 1986 marks an infamous day in Soviet history. It was on this day that the number four nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Chernobyl, exploded. Considered the world’s worst nuclear accident, the explosion sent radioactive dust and debris into the atmosphere, carried by winds to nearby Belorussia. The accident caused the death of thousands of people, and exposed over half a million to high levels of dangerous radioactivity.
In addition the great number of lives lost and the high amounts of radioactive debris that were emitted, the accident also created some economic problems. The cost of the clean up after the accident, which included things like providing housing for those who were evacuated from the areas surrounding the explosion, ended up costing billions of rubles.
After the accident occurred, it took Gorbachev three weeks to make a public announcement on what had happened, greatly hurting his credibility with the Soviet people. Gorbachev, in the spirit of Glasnost, also welcomed international assistance in the aftermath of the accident. Although this was intended as a positive thing for Soviet society, the idea of Glasnost simply ended up making the people question the government’s ability to take care of the people on its own. In addition, the accident also propelled Gorbachev’s policy of disarmament, shifting the country’s goal from ‘nuclear parity’ to ‘nuclear sufficiency’.
Overall, the Chernobyl accident was one with lasting effects for the Soviet Union. In addition to causing a great loss of life and putting a large amount of others in danger, and costing the government billions in clean up efforts, the accident was also a factor in the collapsing of Soviet communism and the social transformation that followed it. It caused the people to distrust both Gorbachev and the government’s ability to take care of its people without foreign aid.
Picture: E. P. Kharberdian: Nuclear Plant in Armenia (1980)
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2009. 456-457. Print.
Sieglebaum, Lewis. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 1985: Meltdown in Chernobyl, 2013.
Sieglebaum, Lewis. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 1985: Perestroika and Glasnost, 2013.