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

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster
I tried this book out as an experiment of listening to a book on my way to the office. I figured I’d have 2 hours each way, so in theory I could close a book out in 9-10 days. Which really would mean 4 weeks, which is unfortunately longer that the loan from the library. The book itself covered, in detail, the beginnings of the nuclear age in the soviet union, the construction of the first power plant, the construction of Chernobyl, and the eventual disaster that took place there.

When I was in college I took a class that was part Philosophy and part Physics, all about the impact of nuclear technology. One of the professors had been to Chernobyl in the 90’s, and covered the ‘accident’, and how the positive void coefficient created the disaster during a test of the reactor. He didn’t get into very many details, and that makes sense given this wasn’t the sole topic of the course. I started reading the book feeling like I new some of the inside story.

It turns out, I was very wrong. The books outlined not only the flaws in the design that led to the accident(my professor’s explanation was wrong), but how along the way there were many steps that could have prevented the issue (like telling the men operating the reactor about flaws in the design). It also gives a outsiders view into soviet politics, and industry which is helpful to understand how flaws, lack of oversight, and soviet central planning made this disaster so much worse. I learned about the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, and how it attempt to hide its failures, because the development of nuclear power was seen as a propaganda win. The construction of the plant faced all the problems of the soviet economy, and the director simply learned he had to keep building without regard to the safety issues.

The most striking portion of the book was listening to the descriptions of men sick from radiation poisoning, who would die within weeks or month of the accident. Many heroically went to address the unfolding emergency, and we exposed to lethal doses of radiation within minutes. Some protected colleagues and prevented them from worse doses, and some were plain ignorant to what was about to happen. The impact it had, and likely is having on people today is nothing but tragic.

Briefly the author discusses the impact to the soviet republic, and ponders if it really was the the catalyst for its eventual end. I have to believe there is some truth in this, especially since so much time was spent trying to hide the disaster. When the truth was revealed, even is controlled internally, it likely shook perception that the Moscow had Ukraine’s best interest in mind(clearly it still doesn’t).

It was worth the time invested, and I did enjoy the book. As for the audiobook format, I’m not sold. I expanded my listening to running, and walking the dog. Both helped me cross a few more hours off, but I never found the same enjoyment I get from turning pages.






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