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Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

My Rating of “Midnight at Chernobyl” by Adam Higginbotham: 8 / 10

Midnight in Chernobyl book cover

Throughout my life I’ve been fascinated with Chernobyl’s nuclear disaster on the 28th April 1986. I’ve read the Chernobyl Wikipedia site, listened to many podcasts and interviews and watched videos of scientists talk and tour the facility in modern times. More recently I watched the Chernobyl series which aired originally on HBO. I am still a big fan of nuclear energy. I believe the current technology available is safe to use and we should pursue this option as one way to reduce climate change.

There was a lot of controversy on the accuracy of the HBO drama and how closely it followed the real life events. It was what instigated me the reading Midnight in Chernobyl. Adam Higginbotham chronicles the events that led up to the disaster. He covers the choice of location and the construction of the city that would support the operations of the power station. He overviews RBMK reactor design including the flaws and how events and circumstances led to that fateful day. Throughout the book Higginbotham leads the reader through the drama of the meltdown and how Soviet politics both helped and hindered the clean-up process.

Whilst I really enjoyed the HBO series, this book takes it to the next level. There are some inaccuracies in the drama versus the book. In my opinion the book is always a superior way to get the more accurate information. Both mediums outline the power struggles (excuse the pun), communist hierarchy and the soviet culture. They are a great lessons for us in modern day situations. We have seen similar instances with planes have crashed (amongst other accidents) given cultures and hierarchies. Fortunately, the world has changed since Midnight in Chernobyl. There are always many lessons we can still learn.

Three key takeaways from the book:

  1. As mentioned above, the communist hierarchy and soviet culture impacts on the ability for conflict (whether positive or constructive), creative thinking and innovation. Drunker said it best – culture eats strategy for breakfast.
  2. All things radiation. Whilst the HBO series touched on the impacts of radiation. The book goes into a much greater level of detail. One instance where an engineer knew he had been exposed to a lethal dose of radiation within the space of seconds. Knowing that radiation causes no instant pain yet will kill you within hours is unimaginable. Interestingly enough, smelling ozone in the air is one way to know there is a large amount of radiation present.
  3. The disaster could have been much worse. It could have had far reaching impacts on the rest of Europe given the meltdown nearly reaching the water table.