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

(Simon & Schuster)
The transition of nuclear fusion from weaponized to a source of power was not a smooth one and the design, construction and operation of nuclear power plants has always been cloaked in secrecy. In fact, as the author points out in his meticulously researched new book, that at the time Chernobyl was being constructed in 1970, nuclear scientists operated in an environment of “reckless experimentation…married with an institutional reluctance to acknowledge when things went wrong.” This attitude, upheld and enforced by the party system of the Soviet Union, demanded that “any accident — no matter how minor — was regarded as a state secret,” and explains why hours after the world’s worst nuclear disaster, citizens in the adjacent town of Pripyat were instructed to “carry on as usual” and that they should go ahead with, for instance, “a children’s health run scheduled for the following day through the streets of the city.” Higginbotham creates a timeline of the construction, the explosion and meltdown of the reactor and the resulting fallout, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, placing this event in a context that effectively demonstrates it wasn’t “if” a nuclear accident of this magnitude was going to happen, it was “when.” This is an eye-opening and important book.
— Reviewed by Jenny Lyons of The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.
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