Book Review: Chernobyl 01:23:40 by Andrew Leatherbarrow

cover for chernobyl 01:23:40
© Andrew Leatherbarrow, 2016.


“At 01:23:40 on April 26th 1986, Alexander Akimov pressed the emergency shutdown button at Chernobyl’s fourth nuclear reactor. It was an act that forced the permanent evacuation of a city, killed thousands, and crippled the Soviet Union. The event spawned decades of conflicting, exaggerated, and inaccurate stories. This book, the result of five years of research, presents an accessible but comprehensive account of what really happened-from the desperate fight to prevent a burning reactor core from irradiating eastern Europe, to the self-sacrifice of the heroic men who entered fields of radiation so strong that machines wouldn’t work, to the surprising truth about the legendary “Chernobyl diver,” all the way through to the USSR’s final show-trial. The historical narrative is interwoven with a story of the author’s own spontaneous journey to Ukraine’s still-abandoned city of Pripyat and the wider Chernobyl Zone.” (Source: Goodreads)


Andrew Leatherbarrow’s Chernobyl 01:23:40: The Incredible True Story of the World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster is an excellent starting point for readers new to the history of nuclear power. When I’m at home, I am just barely outside the fallout range for Arkansas Nuclear One (ANO). While I’m at work, I’m in the reactor’s back yard. As a result, I figured there was no better time to learn a thing or two about nuclear energy. I was not disappointed.

Chernobyl 01:23:40 is the product of a spontaneous trip Leatherbarrow took to visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Pripyat. In this book, he details his experience in Chernobyl, explains nuclear energy in easy to grasp terms, and discusses the incidents leading up to and after the disaster. For those that know little to nothing about nuclear energy, this book is a must-read.

Despite our close proximity to ANO, I cannot recall learning about nuclear energy. As children, our teachers explained what to do in case of an incident at the plant and nothing else. As expected, due to lack of education about reactors and their failsafes, I grew up with an unnecessary fear of ANO. For this reason, I am grateful for Leatherbarrow’s book. What happened at Chernobyl is the product of failure to follow protocol; it is also the result of improper training. Because there are so many safety precautions, the chance of incident is actually fairly small. (Also, ANO is not an RBMK-1000 reactor like Chernobyl.)

In addition to this fear, I have a vested interest in Chernobyl. It’s haunting photos, like all ghost towns, leave me in awe. There is no doubt in my mind that Leatherbarrow spent a long time conducting research. Using various sources, he has crafted a detailed narrative of what happened at Chernobyl. His book also gives voice to some of the reactor’s victims.

Nuclear energy is dangerous. I will not deny that. However, it is also our cleanest resource. While Chernobyl 01:23:40 is only a glimpse into the world of nuclear power, it is a truly eye-opening account brimming with facts.


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