Synopses & Reviews
Dear Comrades Since the accident at the Chernobyl power plant, there has been a detailed analysis of the radioactivity of the food and territory of your population point. The results show that living and working in your village will cause no harm to adults or children.
So began a pamphlet issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Health--which, despite its optimistic beginnings, went on to warn its readers against consuming local milk, berries, and mushrooms--and against going outside. The pamphlet was one of many survival manuals created in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe by a bureaucracy that could not itself fathom what far-reaching consequences the incident would have.
The Soviet Union struggled to protect its citizens from harm while covering up the full scale of the disaster. Later, organizations from the Red Cross to Greenpeace plunged into post-Soviet political circumstances they did not understand. International scientists and diplomats allied to the nuclear industry evaded or denied the fact of a wide-scale public health disaster caused by radiation exposure. Efforts to spin the story about Chernobyl were largely successful; the official death toll ranges between 31 and 54 people. In reality, radiation exposure from the disaster caused between 35,000 and 150,000 deaths in Ukraine alone. There has never been a major international study to definitively tally the damage, leaving Japanese leaders to repeat many of the same mistakes after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Brown shows that Chernobyl was but an acceleration on a timeline of radioactive emissions that point to a much larger catastrophe--a worldwide fallout from twentieth-century weapons testing that denials of Chernobyl's health effects worked to cover up.
Drawing on a decade of archival research and on-the-ground interviews in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, Kate Brown unveils the full breadth of the devastation and the whitewash that followed. Her findings make clear the irreversible impact of man-made radioactivity on every living thing; and hauntingly, they force us to confront the fact that we are emerging into a future for which the survival manual has yet to be written.
Governments and journalists tell us that though Chernobyl was the "worst nuclear disaster in human history," a reassuringly small number of people died (forty-four), and nature recovered. Yet, drawing on a decade of fine-grained archival research and interviews in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, Kate Brown uncovers a much more disturbing story--one in which radioactive isotopes caused hundreds of thousands of casualties.
Scores of Soviet scientists, bureaucrats, and civilians documented stunning increases in cases of birth defects, child mortality, cancers, and a multitude of prosaic diseases, which they linked to Chernobyl. Worried that this evidence would create public panic about the effects of massive radiation release from weapons testing during the Cold War, international scientists and diplomats tried to bury or discredit it. A haunting revelation of how political exigencies shape responses to disaster, Manual for Survival makes clear the irreversible impact on every living thing not just from Chernobyl, but from eight decades of radiation from nuclear energy and weaponry.