History Of A Tragedy
By Serhii Plokhy
Allen Lane – £20.00
Mikhail Gorbachev had little to offer the struggling power plant by way of new funds as the Soviet economy was in free fall, accelerated by declining oil prices on world markets – the main source of hard-currency earnings for the state budget. He placed his hopes for improving Soviet economic performances in market reforms[…]. Inspired by a vision that dated back to the Prague Spring of 1968, when the Czech communists tried to create a communism with a ”human face,” Gorbachev believed that economic reform was impossible without some form of democratization. What Gorbachev saw around him seemed to confirm his view that the two aspects of reform were interdependent. His perestroika initiative undermined the state monopoly on ownership of property and thus the economic foundations of Soviet socialism […].
Would it be wrong to surmise that the one positive thing to have emerged from the terrible Chernobyl disaster of April 26, 1986, was the degree and the speed with which Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms took place?
That his Perestroika initiative would have eventually happened anyway – as so much of the former Eastern block, if not the Western World as a whole, was more than ready for it – is in absolutely no doubt. But it was surely the unquestioning haste of Perestroika and Glasnot’s implementation, that, like Chernobyl itself, caught the world by relative, if not complete surprise.
Hence the hinting, if not the prime substantiation of the opening quote, which, a couple of pages later, is somewhat further enhanced when Serhii Plokhy, the author of Chernobyl – History Of A Tragedy writes: ”Throughout the Soviet Union, the leaders of the new awakened civil society, distressed by economic hardship but encouraged by Gorbachev’s political reforms, turned to eco-activism. It soon took on the features of eco-nationalism, a political movement whose leaders linked concerns about environmental protection with ethno-national agendas, presenting their republics as the principal victims of the centre’s environmental policies.”
As such, there’s no question whatsoever, as to whether or not Mikhail Gorbachev’s political agenda was highly influenced by what took place at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986. Naturally, Ronald Reagan may too have played an intrinsic part, when in Berlin on June 22 the following year (1987), he made his infamous ”tear down this wall” speech.
To be sure, there will be those who might consider this assumption as nothing other than wild conjecture, but I personally think not. There again, if it’s an actual blow by blow account of what actually took place at Chernobyl, then this overtly dramatic, moment-by-moment account of one of the most terrifying events of the Cold War, is most definitely a book for you.
It’s 354 pages (excluding Preface, Notes and Index) literally regale the reader with what happened, along with a technical breakdown as to why it happened:
”The introduction of the control rods with their graphite tips caused a spike in the level of the reaction and a dramatic rise of the core’s temperature. The rise in temperature, in turn, caused the cladding of the fuel rods to fracture. These tubes, less than 14 millimeters, or approximately half an inch, in diameter, have zircaloy walls less than 1 millimeter, or 0.04 inches, thick, making them thinner than a strand of hair. The fractured fuel rods jammed the control rods, which by that time had been inserted to only one-third of their length. The core and the bottom of the reactor’s active zone remained out of reach of the rods, and the reaction there spun completely out of control” (‘Explosion’).
Without wanting to give too much away so far as actual drama is concerned, the award-winning writer and historian, Serhii Plokhy (Professor of History at Harvard University), has herein written a book that is as detailed as it is gripping as it is meticulous.
In other words, quite possibly the finest book on the Chernobyl disaster so far.