Hot on the heels of Serhii Plokhy’s 2018 account of the Chernobyl nuclear accident come two new books about the catastrophe. Such spates are usually anniversary-led, but on this occasion the mini-surge appears to be down to coincidence, particularly given that all three works were years in the making. Clearly, something about the disaster still fascinates us. Ostensibly, it’s the drama of the story itself – a devastating event of potentially world-ending proportions, one that involved enormous folly at the top and great heroism on the ground. But as governments grow more and more concerned about carbon emissions, energy usage and the natural environment, the subject matter is becoming increasingly topical.
Stories of apocalyptic events have a long global history, and yet all are essentially morality plays, setting forth how the wickedness of humankind might bring about the end of time. Works on ‘the world’s greatest nuclear disaster’, therefore, serve as cautionary tales, reminding us that material progress comes with spiritual and environmental costs and keeping us conscious that the more we attempt to refashion the world to suit our own needs, the closer the hand on the Doomsday Clock moves to midnight.
When it was unveiled to the public, nuclear power was heralded as a new wonder tool, able to do everything from extending the shelf life of strawberries to saving the Soviet Union from military and economic stagnation. Here, at last, was a way for the USSR to secure its energy