HISTORY OF A TRAGEDY
SERHII PLOKHY Allen Lane, 420pp, £20, Oldie price £13.49 inc p&p
‘April 26 1986 was so nearly Europe’s Armageddon,’ Julian Evans wrote in the Telegraph, ‘It was an accident begging to happen.’ ‘This is an ambitious work,’ Roland Elliott Brown wrote in the Spectator; ‘Plokhy’s range, from scene-setting and character-sketching to hard science and political analysis, is near Tolstoyan.’
‘As an author, he is a brilliant interpreter not only of the events themselves but of their longer-term historical significance,’ Viv Groskop added in the Guardian. ‘More importantly, he never loses sight of the human picture.’
The immediate cause of Chernobyl was a turbine test that went wrong, but the disaster was caused by a mixture of factors, mostly attributable to the Soviet system, where ‘you were trained to avoid responsibility and wait for someone else to make a decision’. More pertinently, according to Groskop, all this was ‘against the backdrop of a nuclear system that was being driven to breaking point. With the Soviet economy collapsing, nuclear energy was the only part of it that was thriving and there were rich rewards for anyone who could over-fulfil their quota.’ Plokhy, a Ukrainian, ‘shows how the seeds of disillusion with the Soviet project were sown in Chernobyl, as well as the beginning of the Ukrainian independence movement.
‘It’s also a story of heartbreaking, reckless bravery, of the thousands of firemen, police officers, doctors and military personnel... who risked their lives and health in the weeks, months and years afterwards to investigate and clean up a site in conditions that were virtually hopeless.’
‘This history reads like an academic thriller,’ Groskop concluded, ‘As moving as it is painstakingly researched, this book is a tour de force and a cracking read.’
The Chernobyl exclusion zone is beginning to be reclaimed by plants and animals