The Chernobyl nuclear power plant
Just after midnight on the 26th of April
1986 , there was a huge explosion at the
Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine.
This was followed by a gradual melt down
of the No.4 reactor.
It immediately sent radioactive fall out
across neighbouring Byelorussia, Poland and
the Baltic Republics towards Scandinavia.
Within days, radioactive mists wafted across
most of Europe causing anxiety and fear.
I'm going to talk about why it happened and
how the Soviet government responded.
There are three main reasons why the disaster
One reason is outdated technology.
Dr. Edward Teller, known as the father of
the hydrogen bomb said that during the Second
World War, the United States built three
reactors of the same type as the one at Chernobyl
but a safeguard recommended against their
use in 1950. He stressed that no such prototype
was active in any western city today.
Another reason is the priority given to military
Chernobyl reactors are designed for producing
plutonium for military use, as well as for
generating electricity. As has been stated
in a Wall Street Journal editorial: "Soviet
reactors are inherently far more dangerous
than those in the West, for a single reason:
Safety has been sacrificed in the interest
of turning out large quantities of weapons
One more reason is the irresponsibility at
the top and slipshod attitutdes everywhere
Gorbachev had been hurrying all over Russia
to promote efficiency. The results are the
demoralized workforce, the poor discipline
of labour and the chronic shortage of essential
equipment and building materials. There is
a lot of evidence today that numerous warnings
were largely ignored by Moscow.
So let's look at the way the Soviet government
Sweden was the first country to give an alarm.
The day after the accident, the staff at
the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant measured
a dangerous surge in radioactivity. At first
they thought their own plant was the cause
but then they realized that it was coming
from the southeast, from the Soviet Union.
Eventually Chernobyl, some 800 miles away,
was pinpointed from wind patterns. Swedish
diplomats in Moscow asked questions but the
Soviet government did not reply.
The Soviet's first response was to investigate
the entire area with KGB security troops
and impose absolute silence.
The following day, the Moscow TV news announced
in a very short statement that "an accident
had occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power
Plant" with no details. Moscow remained
silent for two more days. Finally on April
30th the Moscow newspaper, Pravda, broke
the silence and announced the Chernobyl accident.
The Chernobyl tragedy has implications that
reach far beyond the critical questions of
contamination and nuclear safety.
The Ukrainian people have suffered devastation
under Soviet rule. In 1933, the Soviet regime
starved to death almost seven million Ukrainian
peasants. Also in the 1930's a series of
mass purges eliminated a whole generation
of Ukrainian intellectuals. And during the
last two decades they have witnessed a large
scale suppression of Ukrainian dissidents.
Consequently, it exacerbated the tensions
between the Ukrainians and Moscow.
When the communist regime collapsed in 1991,
Ukraine became independent. But the Chernobyl
disaster has left a long-lasting legacy,
as the radiation is still making people sick
today and the Ukrainian government is struggling
from the financial impact.