The Oldie - - HISTORY -

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

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