The 1986 Chernobyl accident is so far the most serious nuclear disaster in history. Yet more than thirty years later, the extent of its damage isn’t clear: experts disagree about the number of deaths it caused (from thirty-one to hundreds of thousands), about the danger, if any, of low-dose radiation, the extent of the danger zone and need for resettlement, the various vectors through which radiation spreads, and much more. Whatever statements were issued in the early days, Brown shows in her comprehensive study of the incident and its ongoing aftermath, were largely made up for the sake of avoiding panic; reassuring numbers were not science but “expediency and politics.” Brown, a historian with extensive experience in the former Soviet Union, spent years in archives tracing the complicated chain of official denials and lies. Her report of the massive cover-up is shocking. But it’s her meetings with frustrated doctors, scientists, and especially residents still living in irradiated villages—where the environmental damage is severe and irreversible—that are heartbreaking. And as she did in her excellent Plutopia, she shows that Americans were as invested in defending nuclear power as the Soviets were and used many of the same tactics in downplaying the dangers from atmospheric and underground tests. Few know, for instance, that the radiation released from explosions in Nevada between 1951 and 1992 “dwarfed Chernobyl emissions three times over.” Not just about Chernobyl, this book brings home that since we first split the atom, we’re all living in a contaminated zone.
Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future -- Kate Brown