City of Chernobyl years after the meltdown.

The ideas of “Perestroika” (restructuring) and “glasnost” (openness) were preached by Mikhail Gorbachev throughout his entire political career. However his preaching of Glasnost and his practicing of it were not equal. The Chernobyl disaster of April 1986 in the Ukraine is a prime example of how Gorbachev did not practice what he preached.

A KGB report on the disaster states “…a test at 1:21 A.M., the No. 4 reactor exploded and released thirty to forty times the radioactivity of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” (Revelations). Chernobyl is still known today as one of the most disastrous industrial accidents in history. Ironically in a interview prior to the accident, journalist Maksim Rylskii talked with Vitalii Skliarov, Minister of Power and Electrification of the Ukraine, on the probability of a meltdown, his answer was, “The odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years,” (Soviet Life). The explosion instantly killed thirty people and is suspected to have killed 100,000’s more.  The environmental degradation that happened after the accident destroyed some of the most fertile land in the Ukraine.   The USSR’s response  was not ready for a disaster of this magnitude. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes due to the radiation. Yet the USSR had no place for them to go, or the proper healthcare system to see that the victims of the meltdown were properly treated.

aThree weeks after the explosion on May 16, 1986,  Gorbachev addressed the public about the disaster. All the while the explosion was already known about due to Sweden detecting radiation material near some of there nuclear plants (SMSH). His practicing of Glasnost was apparently not a top priority at the time of the disaster but only when Gorbachev was able to formulate a well written response. Gorbachev stated in his address, “I have every reason to say that, despite the gravity of what happened, the damage turned out to be limited, ” (Gorbachev) The damage was quite extensive contrary to Gorbachev’s statements. 14,400,000 acres of farmable land was destroyed because of this meltdown (Chernobyl Accident). A fact not present in Gorbachev’s address, however stabs at Western powers and praises for soviet workers were repeated throughout the speech. This shows that Gorbachev was not practicing his idea of “Glasnost” but was doing the exact opposite. He was trying to change the publics attention away from the fact that the worst industrial disaster in history happened under his leadership, and towards irrelevant facts like how the West was reacting. The Chernobyl disaster shed light on the entire soviet system and how fragile it actually was and pushed the whole system towards collapse.



Revelations from the Russian Archives:

Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:

Peace and Plenty in Pripyat: Soviet Life (Washington: Embassy of the Soviet Union in the USA, 1986), pp. 8-13

Mikhail Gorbachev, Address on Soviet television. May 14, 1986:

Information on Economic and Social Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident. July 24, 1990: