Chernobyl Book Summary By Serhii Plokhy

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Chernobyl (2018) is an exceptional account of one of the most catastrophic nuclear meltdowns in history.

Written by renowned historian Serhii Plokhy, it is an insightful and thoroughly researched volume documenting the 1986 disaster that rocked the Soviet Union.

Using newly opened archives, Plokhy takes readers on a journey through time - from the fateful minutes prior to meltdown to the extraordinary cleanup efforts undertaken.

He also explores how this tragedy ultimately contributed to the disintegration of the USSR as it highlighted shortcomings in its government's approach to safety regulations and nuclear power monitoring.

An invaluable insight into what happened at Chernobyl, this book should be required reading for anyone seeking a detailed account of those turbulent times.

Chernobyl Book

Book Name: Chernobyl (The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe)

Author(s): Serhii Plokhy

Rating: 4.6/5

Reading Time: 27 Minutes

Categories: History

Author Bio

Serhii Plokhy is an author, expert on and historian of the history of Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the Cold War.

He holds the position of professor of Ukranian History at Harvard University and has written a number of books about these topics, such as The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (2014) and The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015).

His extensive knowledge makes him one of the authoritative sources for Chernobyl Book Summary.

Explore The Tragic History Of Chernobyl: From The Causes Of The Disaster To Its Lasting Repercussions


The Chernobyl disaster of April 26, 1986 has been a momentous event in modern history, but few at the time knew the extent of the calamity.

As flames engulfed the nuclear plant and radiation spewed across the countryside, it took some time for cause to truly realize what had happened and take decisive action to prevent further tragedy.

In these sections, you’ll come to grips with the Chernobyl catastrophe and its fallout: get inside views of the control room as time ticked towards midnight, understand why efforts at prevention failed and learn about heroic attempts to clean up the mess afterwards.

There was also a political aspect to it all; with many blaming Chernobyl for ultimately causing the demise of the already faltering Soviet Union – reactors at Chernobyl were only decommissioned in 2000.

Here you’ll find out who and what was responsible; how they attempted decontamination; and why ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev feels strongly that Chernobyl played a role in collapsing USSR.

How A Safety Test Gone Wrong Sparked One Of The Biggest Nuclear Disasters In History

Right before the tragedy of April 26th at Chernobyl’s Unit 4, the workers were conducting a safety test to determine if their power loss contingency plan would work in an emergency scenario.

The nuclear power plant was equipped with diesel generators in order to provide electricity to pump cooling fluid into the reactor in case of a power outage.

Since it took 45 seconds for the generators to kick in, they wanted to know if their steam turbines could produce enough electricity in that time period until the generator started working.

The tests found that, yes, the turbine could produce electricity for up to 45 seconds after losing power – and that’s when disaster struck.

The thermal shock from coolant suddenly rushing into the reactor caused an explosion, leading to one of the most significant man-made disasters on record.

The Deadly Blunders And Misfortune Of Unit 4’S Turbine Test

The chain of events that lead to the disaster at Unit 4 of Chernobyl show how mismanagement and sheer incompetence pushed the reactor to the brink of catastrophe.

Yuri Tregub was manning the evening shift when his superior dispatched Anatolii Dyatlov, who was unfamiliar with the procedure for the turbine test.

Things quickly got worse as Dyatlov did not arrive until 11:00 p.m., and then proceeded to rush and berate workers for not working fast enough.

In order to complete their test, they needed to reduce output from 760 MWt to 200 MWt, but due this mismanagement and lack of understanding, power dropped to just 30 MWt.

With fuel rods slowed down at this low-power output for so long, more control rods needed to be removed in order keep the temperature up which quickly kicked fuel rods into action leading to a huge power surge that could not be controlled by any normal means.

In trying to compensate for their mistakes, they activated an emergency shutdown procedure which only made things worse by triggering a series of massive explosions that ultimately tore through the reactor and turbine halls of Unit 4

How Design Flaws At Chernobyl Led To A Catastrophic Nuclear Disaster

Nuclear Disaster

The Chernobyl explosions of April 26th, 1986 were caused by a vast array of human errors and technical missteps.

Among these was the fact that the nuclear reactors used at the site were RBMK, a Soviet-made type of reactor that contained a fatal design flaw.

It turns out that the control rods used in these reactors had their tips tipped with graphite – something that increases reactivity instead of decreasing it as intended.

This means that when operators attempted to activate an emergency safety measure called AZ-5, the graphite tips of the control rods simultaneously entered the highly unstable reactor core and pushed it beyond its limits – resulting in a massive explosion that released highly radioactive graphite over the power plant and surrounding area.

Clearly, using graphite tips on control rods was an extremely misguided decision – one which ultimately had catastrophic consequences for both people and nature.

But what led the Soviets to develop such a dangerous technology in the first place? The answer lies in several factors: they are able to produce twice as much energy as standard Western reactors; they’re also cheaper because they use less enriched uranium; and most importantly, they can be easily converted into plutonium-producing plants – essential for creating nuclear weapons.

The Denial Of Officials At Chernobyl Led To Needless Devastation And Suffering

As the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion unfolded, so did the tragedies born out of ignorance and denial.

Firefighters on the scene were completely unprepared for what they witnessed – a fire raging within Unit 4 that was so hot it melted their boots.

Even more alarmingly, they encountered chunks of graphite from the reactor core which spontaneously combusted when exposed to air.

Despite these unbelievable sights, no one had warned them about radiation because plant workers refused to believe an explosion had even taken place.

The lack of education surrounding potential effects of radiation took an even greater toll on those working in the control room – people like Dyatlov and Akimov who vomited from sickness but attributed this to shock rather than health risks.

Vikror Bryukhanov, director of the power plant and a senior figure in Prypiat, was just as much at fault for perpetuating these dangerous misconceptions by downplaying radiation levels in his memo to party leaders in Kyiv.

These figures sacrificed safety for staying true to their own worldviews and as a result allowed radiation to spread even further beyond Chernobyl’s walls – ruining many lives needlessly.

The Heroes Of Chernobyl: How Selfless Sacrifice Stopped An International Disaster

When the disaster occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, local authorities were slow to realize the magnitude of what had happened.

It wasn’t until the firefighters and plant workers started showing signs of acute radiation syndrome (ARS) that everyone began to take notice.

Once officials realized what was occurring, they took immediate steps to address it, starting with the evacuation of Prypiat.

Valery Legasov – the chief scientific advisor on a state commission led by Boris Shcherbina- was instrumental in persuading Shcherbina to evacuate and thereby saved countless lives.

Still, tremendous work would be required if further catastrophic events were to be avoided.

The commission worked hard on damage limitation, with helicopters dropping 5,000 tons of sand, lead, clay and boron onto the reactor in an attempt to force it back into submission.

Hundreds of miners digging a new chamber below the reactor in order to construct a protective concrete platform completed their mission mere hours before a potential steam explosion could have contaminated nearby rivers and oceans with radioactive material.

The Greatest Industrial Clean-Up In History: The Heroic Efforts Of Chernobyl’S Liquidators

Chernobyl'S Liquidators

The Chernobyl disaster was heartbreaking and devastating.

After the worst seemed to have passed, the Soviet government began one of the largest cleanup operations in history.

Over 600,000 soldiers, scientists, engineers and skilled workers were brought in to tackle the contamination caused by radiation from the Chernobyl plant.

These liquidators were given little information or protective clothing as they worked tirelessly to decontaminate thousands of square kilometers of dangerous land.

Helicopters flew to spray a liquid that bound radioactive particles to surfaces and troops on the ground sprayed an effective decontaminating solution.

Engineers demolished structures and buried them along with cars, cranes, computers and local animals; even trees were cut down and burned.

Most harrowing of all was the removal of radioactive graphite from the roof of Unit 3 by brave biorobots (humans), wearing limited respirators and lead protective gear whilst enduring mere seconds with extreme radiation levels.

The casualties included 28 people who died due to ARS (acute radiation syndrome).

In order to protect those building a giant 400,000 ton concrete sarcophagus surrounding Unit 4’s reactor site, a 6 meter thick concrete wall was also constructed around it – finally completed in late November – with 200,000 workers involved in this most challenging task.

Chernobyl’S Devastating Human, Environmental And Political Consequences

The social and environmental costs of the Chernobyl disaster were massive.

As the official death toll from the blast and ARS (acute radiation sickness) is accepted by Russia to be 31, other estimates put the long-term death toll at between 50 to 93,000.

The number of liquidators who have died or been disabled due to radiation exposure is also alarmingly high at 60,000 and 165,000 respectively.

On top of that, cancer rates in Ukraine skyrocketed in the five years after Chernobyl, with a 90 percent increase in child cancer cases seen.

Over 19,000 Ukranian families also received government assistance due to bereavement caused by the disaster.

The explosion released 500 Hiroshima bombs worth of radiation into the atmosphere, heavily contaminating over 100,000 square kilometers of eastern Europe.

Even inside the contaminated zone, deformed animals were born in significant numbers – 63 just within a single Narodychi farm within a year following the accident.

It’s clear that Chernobyl was a disaster with multiple casualties – human and environmental alike – whose consequences still reverberate today.

Chernobyl Catalyzed The Collapse Of The Soviet Union In 1991

Soviet Union In 1991
FILE – In this Thursday, Aug. 22, 1991 file photo, Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin, second right, makes a V-sign to thousands of Muscovites, as his top associate Gennady Burbulis, right, stands near during a rally in front of the Russian federation building to celebrate the failed military coup in Moscow, Russia. When a group of top Communist officials ousted Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev 30 years ago and flooded Moscow with tanks, the world held its breath, fearing a rollback on liberal reforms and a return to the Cold War confrontation. But the August 1991 coup collapsed in just three days, precipitating the breakup of the Soviet Union that plotters said they were trying to prevent. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

The Chernobyl disaster caused a significant political rupture in terms of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

This can be attributed to a variety of factors, namely decreased public trust, as well as increased criticism of the government due to their improper handling of the situation.

Alla Yaroshinskaya’s research revealed that in the Narodychi district over 80% of children had enlarged thyroid glands, which clearly pointed to dangerous radiation exposure.

On top of this, journalists alleged that the government was hiding the extent of contamination to further their agenda on nuclear power.

With all this mounting pressure outside of his control, Gorbachev tried to quell citizens by introducing more freedoms and semi-free elections in 1988.

Unfortunately for him however, these strategies only opened up an avenue for dissent among those from Ukraine and Belarus who were pushing for independence; this especially included eco-activists from The Belarusian Popular front.

Finally, a referendum for Ukrainian independence in December 1991 ended with an overwhelmingly positive vote, resulting in the Soviet Union’s dissolution within days.

Therefore it is safe to say that The Chernobyl disaster contributed significantly to the downfall of the Soviet System by essentially kicking off a chain reaction which ultimately led to its bitter end in 1991.

Wrap Up

The final summary of the Chernobyl disaster is an unforgettable tragedy.

It is a true testament to human incompetence, a deadly design flaw, and government negligence.

The effects of this catastrophe were far-reaching; people were immediately exposed to lethal doses of radiation, with continued health issues that prevent them from living normal lives.

There are still families today dealing with the aftermath, as well as its impact on the former Soviet Union that left an indelible mark around the world.

Ultimately, this disaster serves as reminder of why safety protocols must be observed at all times and why we must strive for better oversight in order to properly anticipate disasters and save future generations.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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