Nuclear Energy: What about Chernobyl?

Ever heard of Godwin’s Law? It is a joke created by Mike Godwin that says that as a conversation on the internet, whether it be a comment section on Facebook or forum, grows longer that the probability of someone comparing an idea or argument to Hitler or Nazis becomes inevitable. I think something similar could be said about Chernobyl when discussing nuclear power. Chernobyl seems to always come up when discussing nuclear power.

In case you do not know, Chernobyl was a nuclear power facility located in the Ukranian state of the Soviet Union in which a unit, namely Unit 4, exploded and caught fire in 1986. 31 workers of the plant were killed. It is estimated that the disaster is the cause of over 7,000 cases of cancer throughout Ukraine, and the environmental effects has been catastrophic.

However, the takeaway from the story of Chernobyl is not the horrors of nuclear power, but the horrors of Soviet-style socialism and leadership. According to Grigori Medvedev, an engineer at Chernobyl, construction and safety checks for the plants were rushed for the sake of hitting deadlines and receiving bonuses provided by the Kremlin, safety violations were constantly overlooked for the sake of good reports to superiors, most of the workers at the time of the explosion were poorly trained, and managers decided to take the plant to very low power causing the plant to become unstable.

Chernobyl was a formula for disaster, but I think to blame the disaster on the dangers of nuclear power is a red herring. While there are many dangers to producing nuclear power, most of them can be avoided with proper procedures and precautions. Soviet leadership is 100% to blame for the Chernobyl disaster.

There are many things we use every day that provide potential dangers, but with proper precautions and procedure disaster is avoided. The same can be said with nuclear energy.

If you are interested in learning more about the Chernobyl disaster and what happened on that April day in 1989, I would highly recommend Grigori Medvedev’s book: The Truth About Chernobyl.

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2 thoughts on “Nuclear Energy: What about Chernobyl?”

  1. While I understand why Soviet Leadership is to blame, why did they not report/fix the problems once the reactor became unstable? While bonuses seem like a reasonable reason to slack, a neauclear disaster seems like a reason to buckle down and make sure things are working properly. To me it seems like there is more to it rather than *just* poor Soviet Leadership.

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    1. Well once the reactor became unstable, it was already too late. However, Soviet managers of the project did know about safety hazards with the facility, but chose to ignore it because they really had no incentives to actually fix the problem and every incentive to finish it as quick as possible. They would have been punished if the project was not finished in time, and the Soviets did not look to kindly on failure (which is how problems in the project would have been looked at).

      Think about it from this perspective: do you blame airplanes, in general, for airplane crashes? Or cars for car crashes? Most likely not. While it is true to say that the Chernobyl disaster would have never happened if their wasn’t nuclear power. It is equally true that car crashed and airplane crashed would not occur if their was’t any cars or airplanes. However, this is clearly a silly suggestion to make. For one, the car is not the reason for the crash but instead the negligence of the driver or perhaps the negligence of the manufacturer if it was due to a faulty car. Same could be said about the Chernobyl disaster and nuclear power. Second, the benefits of having cars and what they give us outweighs the risk of negligent drivers. However, we should still do all we can to eliminate or limit negligent drivers. The same could be said about the Chernobyl disaster and nuclear power.

      We can blame the Chernobyl disaster on soviet leadership and management because there isn’t anything or anyone else to blame it on. Their wasn’t a natural disaster to cause the problem, and there are plenty of nuclear reactors throughout the world that do not experience these difficulties.

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