On 26 April, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear accident happened when the reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. There has been a plethora of myth around the accident. Sergey Sokolov, Head of the Department of Russian History at Ural Institute of Humanities, Ural Federal University, comments some of them.
Myth 1: many people were killed by the reactor explosion
Referring to the facts, it was only Velry Khodemchuk, an operator, who died in the aftermath of the reactor explosion. Vladimir Shashenok, an engineer, died the following morning in a hospital due to severe burns. Over the course of a month after the accident 31 people died as a result of the radiation sickness and burns that were the result of fighting the fires. Of course, the overall number of victims of the accident is huge, thousands times higher. Among them were those who were on the territory of the nuclear power plant, liquidators, people who lived in the exclusion zone and the contaminated area. It is hardly possible to state the actual number of victims.
Myth 2. The Soviet leadership deliberately delayed the evacuation not to spread panic
The leadership itself did not actually have a clear understanding of what was going on in Chernobyl as they were receiving conflicting messages during the first hours following the accident. The first accounts were even optimistic: there was a fire and it was damped down. The following morning, on 26 April, it became clear that there was a reactor explosion. The government commission was immediately sent to Ukraine. By the evening the commission understood the scope of the catastrophe and reported to the leadership that they should evacuate the population of Pripyat, that was around 50 thousand people. Transport was sent there at night and the population was evacuated on April 27. That said, the Soviet leadership accepted on numerous occasions that it did not manage well during the first days after the accident and made many mistakes.
Myth 3. The Chernobyl accident led to the collapse of the Soviet Union
Social and economic consequences of the catastrophe definitely had serious impact on the Soviet Union. But it would not be correct, in my view, to say that it was the reason of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Of course, the efforts to deal with the consequences of the accident came at a huge (in one estimation the cost of the efforts was equal to several per cent of the GDP for 1986-1987) but bearable cost. The accident hugely impacted the Soviet economy and psychology of the people as it undermined public trust in the government and its policy. It caused the fear of radiation and the atom and led to a conspiracy of silence. The catastrophe created a climate of mistrust of Gorbachev’s glasnost. While declaring the commitment to open discussion, it was only the beginning of May when the leadership came up with the official statement about the accident.
The Chernobyl accident is a devastating experience that must not be forgotten. Maybe it is for the good that we have a number of movies, series and computer games about Chernobyl. The tragedy has been studied for decades. But it should be noted that it must be done operating with facts rather than myths.
Создано / Изменено: 30 апреля 2021 / 16 сентября 2021
© ФГАОУ ВО «УрФУ имени первого Президента России Б.Н. Ельцина»
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