Ablaze: The Story of the Heroes and Victims of Chernobyl

Ablaze: The Story of the Heroes and Victims of Chernobyl

by Piers Paul Read
     
 

Early on the morning of April 26, 1986, the nuclear reactor at the fourth unit of the V. I. Lenin power station at Chernobyl exploded. In the terror and panic that followed, an engineer grabbed a dosimetrist to ask for a radiation level and was told it was off the dial. "With a dread feeling in his heart, Sasha Yuvchenko at last realized that they were all almost… See more details below

Overview

Early on the morning of April 26, 1986, the nuclear reactor at the fourth unit of the V. I. Lenin power station at Chernobyl exploded. In the terror and panic that followed, an engineer grabbed a dosimetrist to ask for a radiation level and was told it was off the dial. "With a dread feeling in his heart, Sasha Yuvchenko at last realized that they were all almost certainly doomed to die...." Piers Paul Read's enthralling account of this disaster and its aftermath is filled with acts of courage - as well as bumbling confusion, secrecy, lies and cover-ups. To chronicle the catastrophe, he interviewed the engineers and operators who were on duty during the fateful test that was being conducted on the night of April 25; talked to the director of the power station, who was serving a ten-year sentence for negligence; and visited the hitherto top-secret institutes once run by Beria's Ministry of Medium Machine Building: the Kurchatov Institute, Moscow's Hospital No. 6 and the once-closed city of Obninsk. This is the first account to take advantage of the declassification of nuclear information in the former Soviet Union and the loosening of tongues that followed the failure of the coup in 1991. The author also gained access to the transcripts of the trial of the Chernobyl reactor operators, as well as the protocol of the previously secret Medical Commission, and other confidential reports. In the years that followed the accident, the trauma of Chernobyl became a major factor in the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union. The government covered up the deficiencies in the reactor's design, deceiving Western experts in Vienna and making scapegoats of the personnel, but, because of the accident, the Russian people had lost faith in the system. Now, seven years later, despite the reassurance of some experts, others still believe that Chernobyl may ultimately claim more victims than did World War II, and relocation continues from contaminated areas in Russia, Belo-russia and

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Read's taut, riveting probe of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion and its aftermath reveals the full magnitude of the disaster as perhaps no other book has done. The English journalist ( Alive ) spent months in Russia, Byelorussia and Ukraine in 1991 interviewing scores of survivors, officials and scientists. Focusing on the human side of the catastrophe, he gives a blow-by-blow account of the accident, complete with reconstructed dialogue, then explores the Soviet cover-up and Western experts' efforts to estimate the effects of a disaster that may ultimately claim more victims than WW II, suggests Read. Instead of acknowledging reactor design flaws and poor safeguards, Soviet officials brought scapegoats to trial, in what Read likens to Stalin's show trials. Drawing on interviews and on newly declassified Soviet medical records, he assesses the plight of residents in the far-flung contaminated zone and discloses that most of the 600,000 cleanup and rescue personnel suffered severe damage to their immune systems. Photos. 50,000 first printing. (Apr.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
The Chernobyl disaster gets the James Michener treatment from Alive author Read, who characterizes all the main participants in the tragedy and grippingly shows the mix of ineptitude and heroism with which the Soviets responded to it. More detailed than earlier Western accounts, more readable than any Soviet account (including Grigori Medvedev's The Truth About Chernobyl , LJ 6/15/90, and his recent No Breathing Room: The Aftermath of Chernobyl , LJ 4/1/93), Read shows how human error (which the Russians acknowledged) and a faulty reactor design (which they tried to conceal) led to dozens of deaths and widespread contamination, but it's the Soviet system that emerges here as the key villain in the story. For all informed readers. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/92.-- Robert Decker, Palo Alto, Cal.
Booknews
To chronicle the catastrophe, the author interviewed the engineers and operators on duty at the time, talked to the director, now serving a ten year sentence for negligence, visited the previously top-secret Kurchatov Institute, Moscow's Hospital No. 6, and the once-closed city of Obninsk. The author also gained access to the transcripts of the trail of the reactor operators, the protocol of the previously secret Medical Commission, and other confidential reports. Includes 16 pages of b&w photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Gilbert Taylor
The virtual nuclear meltdown at the Lenin Nuclear Power Station at Chernobyl was no normal accident. The site and surrounding area--up to a 30-kilometer radius--will be uninhabitable for thousands of years, a semi-eternal monument to the risks of taking any shortcuts in atomic safety. As in most industrial accidents, however, the chain of causality was long--no single weak link was "the" culprit. Read explains the background and careers of the many actors, starting with the scientists who pushed forward a technology as proof of their country's technical prowess. Then he switches to the technicians on duty at Unit 4 that fateful night of April 26, 1986, tightening the tension by slow turns as they work to complete an oft-delayed test. When it goes amiss, they hit the emergency shut-off that shoves boron rods into the graphite pile; ironically, this becomes the detonator, explosively exposing a flaw in the reactor's design. Summoned to the radioactive inferno, bold firemen take lethal doses of rems to stave off an even greater catastrophe should the three nearby reactors go off as well. Read's description pulls the reader along with a magnetic, present-tense cadence through the time when a sarcophagus is built around the structure and the situation stabilizes. The remaining story seems perhaps anticlimatic, covering the accident's health ramifications, the trial of the plant directors, and the workings of the then-nascent policy of glasnost. Overall, though, this tale of warning is breathlessly told by an experienced hand and is sure to captivate a wide readership.
Kirkus Reviews
A dispassionate yet mesmerizing survey of atomic-electric power in the Soviet Union, whose centerpiece is the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl. While Read (On the Third Day, 1991, etc.) never says as much, his detailed, human-scale account could serve as an allegory for the concurrent chain reaction that resulted in the USSR's meltdown. Drawing on previously classified data and on testimony from participating principals, Read recalls Moscow's post-WW II drive to showcase Communist physics through a network of nuclear generating stations. Moving on to the construction of the Chernobyl complex, he documents how material shortages, technical incompetence, bureaucratic snafus, Communist Party interference, and allied constraints ensured the facility's eventual failure. Although operator errors contributed to the accident, Read leaves little doubt that design deficiencies were primarily responsible. Moreover, he reports, after the explosion, the immediate instinct of most apparatchiks was to cover up the fact that the country and its vaunted scientific establishment were neither ready, willing, nor able to respond effectively to a nuclear emergency: Since Soviet reactors were deemed perfectly safe, for example, no evacuation plans had been drawn up. The official death toll was put at 31, while scapegoats were quickly identified and imprisoned. By contrast, Read cites estimates that Chernobyl ulimately could claim more lives than the Soviets lost in WW II, and he notes that fallout has made large areas of Belorussia, Russia, and the Ukraine uninhabitable, perhaps for thousands of years. Partisans on both sides of the nuclear/environmental issue may take exception to the author's agenda-freenarrative: Read allows the story and his sources to speak for themselves, eschewing any hint as to whether he believes atomic power to be a blessing or a bane. A top-notch take on a man-made catastrophe and its chilling consequences. (For a look at Chernobyl's aftermath by the plant's former chief engineer, see Grigori Medvedev's No Breathing Room, p. 207.) (Sixteen pages of photos, three maps—not seen)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679408192
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/19/1993
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
416

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