I saw the “Chernobyl” miniseries on HBO recently. This huge nuclear explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant happened in 1986 in what is now Ukraine – it was part of the USSR (Soviet Russia) at that time.
Almost everyone knows what could have happened to completely decimate the European Continent if things had been allowed to further deteriorate from the precipice at which the Chernobyl nuclear power plant found itself on the 24th April 1986. Most of the western part of Russia and Western Europe would have become uninhabitable for at least a hundred years.
I am not going to delve into the technicalities of the nuclear disaster itself, which pertains to the faulty Russian design of the specific type of reactor (there are still some 10 such reactors in operation in Russia even today, can you believe it?).
What puzzled me the most while viewing the Chernobyl miniseries (which had 5 episodes) was the arrogance of the power plant management hierarchy which refused to see or believe what really happened, and tried to hide behind the Soviet Communist Party hierarchy, blaming various technical folks for their mismanagement. The other more critical aspect was the absolute loyalty that the Party and the Government expected of its managers, rather than the scientific analysis that was put in front of them by one of the most seasoned nuclear veterans in the country (who was almost thrown to the dogs by the KGB in 1988). All the occurrences depicted in the play may not be true or accurate, but I would expect a close adherence to what the witnesses stated in many depositions over the years, and that was surely the case.
Communism was and is never a form of government that can be suitably justified – there have been a long string of failures of Communist governments, the still ongoing examples being that of Cuba and North Korea, and several others. Communism depended on an absolute commitment to respecting and serving a dilapidated party hierarchy, which was far removed from the realities on the ground (or, which chose to remain isolated). Compare the Chernobyl nuclear disaster with the The Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in the U.S. – you can immediately see the vast difference between the transparency and accountability of a Democratic dispensation and an autocratic functioning of the Communist form of government.
It is no wonder to infer that the Chernobyl disaster eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, though the Communist Party survived. Russia became a bit more transparent as a result, after several countries broke away from its orbit. Gorbachev did the right thing of bringing in “Glasnost” or transparency in the way that USSR operated, he realised that he needed Western technology and assistance. As we see in this miniseries episodes, Gorbachev made the right decisions as the disaster unfolded with total support to the effort to contain it.
I am not commenting here on the way that Russia had progressed ever since, but am still bothered that the Chernobyl-kind of reactors still operating in Russia have not yet been decommissioned. The big issue with nuclear power is that it is not fool-proof, and also the very damaging and life-threatening effects of any disaster involving a nuclear power plant are not contained within the country which operates the plant. It could be a disaster for the entire world. Lack of transparency and accountability are the key areas of concern under an opaque system of governance, and these issues have not gone away. Thousands of lives could have been saved if stupid administrators of the power station and party-driven bureaucrats had done their job in the case of the Chernobyl disaster.
I am not giving a clean chit to democratic countries however. They are also eminently capable of hiding problems, but if a problem is likely to explode beyond their control, they instantly become totally transparent. They would seek cooperation across the government. Not like the manner in which the noted Soviet nuclear scientist Legasov was treated by the Soviet government bureaucracy with apathy and disdain.
There are good and capable scientists on both sides – there is no doubt about it. However, scientist operate in only one way, seeking the underlying truth and addressing the problems. Exactly like the way Legasov approached the Chernobyl disaster with a series of solutions while explaining the fundamentals of nuclear fission to Communist party officials. Democracy or Communism – these ideologies are not going to change science, but they can undermine science by relegating scientific findings to the backyard of trash, exactly like what U.S. President is doing with the science of Climate Change, which he refuses to understand or appreciate, while the outcomes of climate change are spreading throughout the world.
So, if we learn one lesson from Chernobyl, it is respect for science and its findings. It cannot be cost optimisation due to lack of budget, which is a key reason why the Soviet nuclear reactor was badly designed and implemented, with no regard to safety. It is also the reason why the Chernobyl Reactor No. 3 was run at low power for 12 hours, instead of its rated power, and the reactor design was not suited to long hours of low power operation, etc…….there were several reasons why the nuclear core exploded, and there is a lot of physics and chemistry involved!
See the HBO miniseries – it will have a serious impact on you, and let me tell you that you can neither ignore the power of science nor the stupidity of politicians or bureaucrats.
08 June 2019