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Chernobyl: 7 People Who Played a Crucial Role in the World's Worst Nuclear Disaster

April 26, 2019 in History

By Adam Higginbotham

From the 25-year-old with his finger on the wrong button to the grizzled Communist Party apparatchik who thought evacuation was for sissies

When the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station exploded in the early hours of April 26, 1986—precipitating the worst nuclear disaster in history—it resulted almost entirely from human factors.

A view of the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant three days after the explosion. Considered history’s worst nuclear accident, the Chernobyl disaster on April 26, 1986 killed 31 people directly, many due to radiation poisoning during the cleanup. The area around the plant remains so contaminated that it’s officially closed off to human habitation.

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As the real history of that fateful event continues to be revealed, those factors loom large. Would the Chernobyl explosion, which occurred close to the border between then-Soviet republics of Ukraine and Belarus, have happened if the deputy chief engineer on duty that night wasn’t sleep-deprived? Or if the plant’s administrative head hadn’t succumbed to pressure to cut corners or cover up an earlier accident? How many fewer people would have fallen ill if government officials hadn’t dithered over the question of evacuation? And how much of the broader region might have avoided radioactive fallout if Soviet decision-makers weren’t so steeped in a culture of secrecy and fear? In his new book Midnight In Chernobyl, author Adam Higginbotham reconstructs the catastrophic events through the experiences of the people who lived through it. Here are seven key protagonists at the heart of the tragedy:

Viktor Brukhanov

Director of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station


Viktor Brukhanov at a sitting of the USSR Supreme Court, 1987.

Viktor Brukhanov had devoted most of his adult life to the communist dream of bringing electricity to the USSR. Appointed to head the Chernobyl nuclear project when he was just 34 years old—and the site of the future plant was nothing more than a deserted field knee-deep in snow—Brukhanov was soft-spoken and well-liked by his staff, but overworked and brow-beaten by his Communist Party bosses. By the spring of 1986, he was nonetheless on the brink of personal triumph: The Chernobyl plant was among the best-performing nuclear stations in the Soviet Union; and Pripyat, the city he had had built to house the plant workers and their families, stood as a beacon of progress—a magnet for specialists from all …read more

Source: HISTORY

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The Harsh Reality of Life Under Apartheid in South Africa

April 26, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

From 1948 through the 1990s, a single word dominated life in South Africa. Apartheid—Afrikaans for “apartness”—kept the country’s majority black population under the thumb of a small white minority. It would take decades of struggle to stop the policy, which affected every facet of life in a country locked in centuries-old patterns of discrimination and racism.

A sign common in Johannesburg, South Africa, reading ‘Caution Beware Of Natives’.

The segregation began in 1948 after the National Party came to power. The nationalist political party instituted policies of white supremacy, which empowered white South Africans who descended from both Dutch and British settlers in South Africa while further disenfranchising black Africans.

The system was rooted in the country’s history of colonization and slavery. White settlers had historically viewed black South Africans as a natural resource to be used to turn the country from a rural society to an industrialized one. Starting in the 17th century, Dutch settlers relied on slaves to build up South Africa. Around the time that slavery was abolished in the country in 1863, gold and diamonds were discovered in South Africa.


Many white women in South Africa learned how to use firearms for self-protection in the event of racial unrest in 1961, when South Africa became a republic.

That discovery represented a lucrative opportunity for white-owned mining companies that employed—and exploited—black workers. Those companies all but enslaved black miners while enjoying massive wealth from the diamonds and gold they mined. Like Dutch slave holders, they relied on intimidation and discrimination to rule over their black workers.

The mining companies borrowed a tactic that earlier slaveholders and British settlers had used to control black workers: pass laws. As early as the 18th century, these laws had required members of the black majority, and other people of color, to carry identification papers at all times and restricted their movement in certain areas. They were also used to control black settlement, forcing black people to reside in places where their labor would benefit white settlers.


A woman shows the “interior passport” that she must have to enter Cape Town during work hours, circa 1984. The rest of the time, people of color were not allowed in the cities.

Those laws persisted through the 20th century as South Africa became a self-governing dominion of the United Kingdom. Between 1899 and 1902, Britain …read more

Source: HISTORY