On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station occurred due to a surge of power in their no. 4 reactor. The explosion caused radioactive dust to travel through the air, killing 38 people immediately and an estimated 100,000 later. Wind carried the radioactive dust throughout the air, stretching across the Soviet Union and parts of Europe. Despite the extreme danger of the situation, the Kremlin was silent. Soviet officials refused to elaborate on the extent of the accident- but they soon found that the accident would be hard to hide. Sweden approached the Soviet Atomic Power Inspection Board when they discovered the levels of radioactive discharge in their country- Moscow denied any accounts that the accident occurred. However, when Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway all began to report high levels of radioactivity in the air, Moscow was forced to announce the accident.
The populous demanded transparency about the accident, but the Soviet government refused to give out more than the television announcement they approved. The announcement downplayed the disaster, and ensured that “the danger had passed.” However, the West wasn’t convinced. Scientists from other countries used accounts from Sweden to piece together the gravity of the situation. The Soviet government still refused to give out details, while the media even blamed the West for spreading propaganda to “poison the international atmosphere.”
“A no less important sector of work, the Academician continued, is the decontamination and removal of the radiation debris. One must bear in mind that here we are talking only about radioactive emissions that took place at the very moment of the accident and during the first days afterward. Therefore, all talk about a possible transfer of radioactive fallout is groundless. Nevertheless, in some places in the West people are still taking a too emotional approach in assessing what happened, trying to invest the accident with their own interests.”
–Ye. P. Velikhov, Vice President of the USSR Academy of Sciences
It took a week for the Soviet Union to actually release a full account of the accident. Pravda confirmed the suspicions of experts around the world.
“Chernobyl Warns.” May 27, 1986. Accessed April 28, 2018. https://dlib-eastview-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/doc/19992670.
“Meltdown in Chernobyl.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. September 02, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/meltdown-in-chernobyl/.
Vitkovskaya, Julie. “How the Soviet Union Stayed Silent during the Chernobyl Disaster.” The Washington Post. April 25, 2016. Accessed April 28, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/04/25/how-the-soviet-union-stayed-silent-during-the-chernobyl-disaster/?utm_term=.85f4e390acd3.
8 thoughts on “Explosion? What explosion?”
I find it really interesting, and not at all surprising, that the Soviet Union was willing to let masses of its own citizens suffer the consequences of radiation just to hide its failures from the people. I like how you examined the actions of the West during this disaster, as it was one of the main forces that made the Soviet Union respond the way it eventually did. What do you think the Soviet Union would have done if the West had not pushed it to make an official, fact-correct response?
I think it would have been really hard for the Soviet government to keep the accident as quiet as they wanted to, due to the large effects on the populous. The large number of displaced persons, and the health affects after the incident would’ve been clear indicators of radiation. Even though other countries pushed for transparency, the Soviet people were also pushing for more information- the government would’ve felt the need to react to their demands.
It is unbelievable that they would deny the extent of a catastrophe that would later kill 100,000 people. I think the cover-up is best shown in the documentary we are watching where one of the babushkas talks about the government promising the evacuees would only be gone for three days. In your research, did you read anything about how the Chernobyl meltdown affects the region today?
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which reports to the UN, people continue to live and work in certain areas that were affected by the accident. However, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is still intact and controlled by the government. Authorities are still working to restore the area, but it is unknown when the exclusion zone will be habitable again. Wildlife however, despite the remaining radioactivity in the area, has thrived- showing potential for life to return.
That TV news cast is really something! Can you understand the Russian? It’s kind of chilling, given what we know was actually happening. Check out this ABC news report from May 14 (18 days after the explosion!) where you can get Gorbachev’s first public announcement about the disaster (with English subtitles). https://youtu.be/0k3wnXBE5S0
That is a really neat video. To answer your question, I could understand part of the newscast I linked (with the CC turned on.) I think what is interesting about the newscast I linked was the photo they included of the power station. It almost looks like nothing had even affected the infrastructure- another tactic to downplay the incident.
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I also wrote about the disaster at Chernobyl! I certainly agree with your analysis of the social implication. The lack of transparency led to a huge push for more openness. I also found the physical effects on the environment particularly interesting!
Great post and great summary. It’s crazy that they wouldn’t try to acknowledge it. You would think it’s obvious that word will get out about this… This correlates well to the film we watched in class. I wonder how many people still live in the Chernobyl blast zone today. Weird how despite the dangers of the zone, the girl taking us through and the men checking on the homes didn’t have to wear any masks or anything. Perhaps it’s dangerous after a certain amount of time?