On April 26, 1986, at 1:23 in the morning, shift supervisor of the #4 reactor Aleksandr Akimov pressed the AZ-5 emergency shutdown button on the central control panel to lower the control rods in hopes of shutting down the reactor. What followed at the Lenin Nuclear Power Plant, more commonly known as Chernobyl, was a runaway power surge that produced an almost incomprehensible steam/gas explosion that literally blew the bio shield off the top of the reactor and exposed the interior of the reactor (UO2 fuel and graphite) to the atmosphere.
The author of this book, Grigori Medvedev, was a Soviet nuclear engineer who had spent time at Chernobyl during the construction and start-up phase of several of the reactors. While not working at the plant during the catastrophe, he eventually made his way back to the area (plant, Pripyat, Chernobyl, and other areas) days after to help in investigations and mobilizations for shutting down the exposed, burning reactor permanently. Some years after, he wrote this outstanding, frightening, and enlightening account of the events before, during, and after this tragedy.
The reader will learn that the Soviets had a very laid-back and almost hands off policy towards safety in the years during their nuclear plant buildup all over the USSR. Also noted is the inexperience of the operators at this particular plant and the inherent design flaws that existed in the type of reactor at Chernobyl. The Soviets also exhibited a policy of denial, cover-up, and just general incompetence in the aftermath of a destroyed, exposed reactor. However, not to be lost in this mass of errors, is the absolute bravery and courage exhibited by the plant operators and firefighters after the explosion. Their efforts have been documented as quite possibly preventing another reactor from suffering the same fate. Most of them died within 2 months from direct, lethal exposure to intense beta and gamma radiation, all of them not aware of the dangers they were immersed in.
Many feel the disaster at Chernobyl contributed to the downfall of the USSR. It also changed the world's view of nuclear power generation forever. Thankfully, the reactors operating around the world today are of advanced designs that prevent these events from being able to occur (Fukushima notwithstanding, a different kind of accident that will be addressed in the future as well).
I recommend this book to all science and history lovers, as it very well may be one of the most important books I have ever read. Medvedev deserves high praise for his efforts to expose the truth in hopes of saving lives in the future.