The Great Chernobyl Acceleration

Lecture | April 17 | 6-7:30 p.m. | 3335 Dwinelle Hall

 Kate Brown, Professor of History in the Science, Technology and Society Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES)

In April 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded and sent upwards of 50 million curies into the surrounding environment. Brown argues that to call this event an “accident” is to sweep aside radioactive incidents in the region that occurred before and after the accident. In the 1960s, Soviet researchers learned that the people living in the Pripyat Marshes surrounding the Chernobyl Plant had 30 times more radioactive cesium in their bodies due to fallout from nuclear testing. In the decades after the 1986, the KGB recorded over a dozen nuclear accidents at Ukrainian nuclear power plants, while fires in the Chernobyl Zone volatized radioactivity stored in trees and the leaf litter and resurrected it. Instead of a one-off accident, Brownargues that Chernobyl was a point of acceleration on a timeline of radioactive contamination that continues to this day.

Kate Brown is Professor of History in the Science, Technology and Society Department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of the prize-winning histories Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford 2013) and A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Harvard 2004). Brown was a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow. Her work has also been supported by the Carnegie Foundation, the NEH, ACLS, IREX, and the American Academy of Berlin, among others. Her latest book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future will be published by Norton (US), Penguin Lane (UK) and Czarne (Poland) in spring 2019 and by Actes Sud in France in October 2019.