The Truth About Chernobyl

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

History owes a great debt to Medvedev. In pursuit of the causes of the Chernobyl disaster, he examined the ruined plant days after the accident and interviewed key figures who were soon to die of radiation sickness. The result is an objective account of a disaster shrouded in a mist of official lies.

The catastrophe occurred, ironically, during a routine test of the emergency systems to be used in the event of an accident. The plant’s directors and operators, an inexperienced and inept team, made a series of fatal errors. One of Medvedev’s most agonizing revelations is that only a minute before the explosion, if the correct procedures had been followed, the catastrophe could have been prevented.

Medvedev shows how the secrecy and self-protection that have permeated matters nuclear for the past thirty-five years contributed to the disaster. The plant’s administrative staff and operators refused to accept that the reactor was indeed destroyed, despite clear evidence to the contrary. So began the lethal myth reported back to Moscow and disseminated by the world’s press—the myth of the intact reactor.

In attempts to “save” the reactor, firefighters and relief workers were exposed to fatally high levels of radiation. The needless suffering caused to workers and local populations by bureaucratic ignorance and cynicism makes for a dramatic harrowing account.

Medvedev’s account is marred by an excess of technical language and a shortage of definitions, especially in the description of events leading up to the explosion. Overall, however, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHERNOBYL is both a convincing plea for glasnost within the nuclear industry and a seminal text for anyone concerned with the dangers and ethics of nuclear power.

Sources for Further Study

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. XLVII, June, 1991, p. 38.

Chicago Tribune. May 5, 1991, XIV, p. 3.

Foreign Affairs. LXX, Fall, 1991, p. 180.

Issues in Science and Technology. VII, Summer, 1991, p. 109.

JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. CCLXVI, August 7, 1991, p. 717.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 21, 1991, p. 2.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, April 7, 1991, p. 1.

Physics Today. XLIV, June, 1991, p. 105.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, February 1, 1991, p. 74.

Time. CXXXVII, April 29, 1991, p. 64.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, April 28, 1991, p. 1.