Bad Tidings: Communication and Catastrophe

By Lynne Masel Walters; Lee Wilkins et al. | Go to book overview

8
Reporting Chernobyl: Cutting The Government Fog to Cover the Nuclear Cloud

Philip Patterson Oklahoma Christian College


INTRODUCTION

On Monday, April 28, 1986, Swedish scientists routinely monitoring levels of radioactivity in the atmosphere discovered a remarkable increase in certain isotopes. Prevailing northerly winds left no doubt that the source of the contamination was inside the Soviet Union. Within the next 24 hours, the world determined the source of the radioactivity was the nuclear power stations at Chernobyl, and despite a lack of Soviet confirmation, it became obvious to western European observers that a nuclear accident of unprecedented magnitude was underway.

The Soviet nuclear power station at Chernobyl provided power for Kiev, the Soviet Union's third largest city 80 miles south of the installation, and to the surrounding farmland that has been likened to America's bread basket. The plant, comprising four reactors completed in the late 1970s, produced electrical energy through nuclear reaction in a water-cooled, graphite core, a construction type abandoned in U. S. power plants in the early 1950s.

The Saturday night of the accident, Soviet technicians decided to carry out an unauthorized test while the reactor was shut down. The test was to determine how much electricity the high speed turbine generator would produce after the

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