There are events that change everything, that reach into the daily lives and minds of people almost everywhere, and force important re-sets on the powers that be. 9/11 was such an event.
So was Chernobyl, the explosion that blasted the roof off Reactor #4 in a group of nuclear power plants in the northern part of Ukraine, and spread dangerous radiation across much of the northeastern half of Europe in April 1986.
How dangerous? Estimates range from 4000 to 5000 people will die of cancers caused by Chernobyl radiation.
For how long? The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a deadly circle of devastation and abandonment a bit more than 37 miles across, could be beyond reclamation for more than 100,000 years.
And the Soviet government of Mikhail Gorbachev thought they could keep all this secret for more than 2 weeks.
Growing public shock at the magnitude and consequences of the nuclear accident, and the stupidity and haplessness of the Gorbachev government’s reaction to them led pretty directly to the end of the Soviet Empire and a series of national political uprisings in Ukraine, most recently in Kyiv’s Maidan Square.
Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History and Director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University. His Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe follows his very successful Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation and 9 other books.