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Turning Point at Chernobyl

If the Chernobyl disaster held one lesson, Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in 2006 on the catastrophe’s 20th anniversary, it was that nuclear devastation – whether caused by an accident or the deployment of a weapon – is far more horrifying than the world seemed to realize. Yet countries around the world continue to cling to nuclear technology. 

MOSCOW – The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl 20 years ago this month, even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the main cause of the Soviet Union’s collapse five years later. Indeed, the Chernobyl catastrophe was a historic turning point: there was the era before the disaster, and there is the very different era that has followed. 

The morning of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear station on April 26, 1986, the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union met to discuss the situation and organized a government commission to control the situation and ensure that serious measures were taken, particularly regarding the health of people in the disaster zone. Moreover, the Academy of Science established a group of leading scientists, who were immediately dispatched to the Chernobyl region.

At that point, the Politburo did not have an accurate and complete picture of the situation. But it was the general consensus that, in the spirit of the already-established glasnost policy, we should openly share information upon receiving it. Claims that the Politburo concealed information about the disaster are thus far from true.

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Project Syndicate celebrates its 25th anniversary with PS 25, a collection of our hardest-hitting commentaries so far.

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