Review: Midnight in Chernobyl

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Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

4/5 Stars

Midnight in Chernobyl provides a detailed account of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that occurred in April 1986 and its aftermath.

I thought the author did a great job of providing enough information the events leading up to the disaster, including the problems with building the nuclear plant, which were largely due to the Soviet Union hiring individuals that were unqualified to build and manage the plant.  Though the individuals who were hired had various science degrees, none were really qualified to build a nuclear plant and it became evident that the plans for the plant were faulty to begin with.

The author also provides some historical insight into cover-ups by the Soviet Union of other nuclear ‘mishaps’ that were responsible for taking some lives but small enough that the world at large did not find out about them.  This information is necessary for the reader to understand the context of how widespread mismanagement actually was at the time. The Soviet Union was trying to compete with the US in generating nuclear plants and becoming a strong force in the world and this meant taking shortcuts and then covering up after something went wrong.

The book provides a linear narrative of how the Chernobyl disaster occurred, as well as the 6 month long containment efforts in which thousands of Soviet soldiers and civilians were forced to do dangerous labour around the nuclear plant to contain the radiation. The building of the ‘sarcophagus’ around Reactor #4 (the one that exploded) was a necessary but incredibly dangerous endeavour.  The men who were sent there to clean up and build the sarcophagus went largely undocumented and unaccounted for when the Soviet Union accounted for the casualties from the disaster.

Overall, I thought that the book was a fascinating read.  I feel connected to the Chernobyl story in a way because I was born in Poland in April 1985, one year prior to the explosion of Reactor #4. One one hand, I feel lucky that my family has not felt the effects of the disaster but on the other hand, it worries me to think that we are more predisposed to cancer because of the cloud of radiation that went across some regions in Europe after Reactor exploded.

Yet we were far enough to be relatively safe from immediate radiation. The hundreds of thousands of families that were closer to the impact (especially those in Belarus) have suffered through many painful physical and mental conditions since the disaster and have had little to no recourse from the parties responsible.

I received an uncorrected proof copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, however, I ended up listening to a finished copy on Overdrive.


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