Ten Years of the Chornobyl Era; April 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Shcherbak; 6 Page(s)
These words were written to me in 1986 by the head of the shift operating the reactor that exploded at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine. The explosion and a resulting fire showered radioactive debris over much of eastern Europe. The author of the words above, along with several others, was later jailed for his role in the disaster, although he never admitted guilt.
Subsequent official investigations have shown, however, that responsibility for this extraordinary tragedy reaches far beyond just those on duty at the plant on the night of April 25 and early morning of April 26, 1986. The consequences, likewise, have spread far beyond the nuclear energy industry and raise fundamental questions for a technological civilization. Before the explosion, Chornobyl was a small city hardly known to the outside world. Since then, the name--often known by its Russian spelling, Chernobyl--has entered the chronicle of the 20th century as the worst technogenic environmental disaster in history. It is an internationally known metaphor for catastrophe as potent as "Stalingrad" or "Bhopal." Indeed, it is now clear that the political repercussions from Chornobyl accelerated the collapse of the Soviet empire.