#7 The official international response

From the start, Western governments were keen to accept the Soviet account of the causes and consequences of the accident, and to agree that the Soviets had done their best in the face of it. Blame was not politic.

It happens that the United Nations has always been the location of a pro-nuclear body, the International Atomic Energy Authority, which seeks to oversee civil nuclear power and to limit the degree to which it is used as a source of fissile material for military use.

Almost immediately after the accident, Moscow agreed to discuss the Chernobyl accident – its causes and consequences – within this forum. This approach had the merit for all parties that it was not overtly political and was overtly scientific.

Focussing attention on this forum seems to have involved a sort of deal: Western governments would not criticise the Soviets for causing the accident, and the Soviets would be as open as possible about their handling of its consequences.

This was a sensible approach because not only was the accident history (and there was no point crying over split milk); but

  • Moscow did respond fairly well to the accident;
  • Moscow did agree with West about the effects of the fall-out;
  • Moscow did agree to modify the RBMK (not least with Western help);
  • Moscow did embrace the idea of a “safety culture”.


The UN’s response

From the start, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Authority sent task forces to Chernobyl, Belorussia, Ukraine and other affected parts of the Soviet Union. It held meetings of Western and Soviet experts in Kiev and Vienna, and issued reports. This process continued after the fall of the USSR.

The results were often disputed. The greens hated the relative optimism of the reports. So too did Ukrainian nationalists, who for various reasons were inclined to think that the reports understated the damage down to their innocent fellow countrymen by an oppressive Soviet regime.

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Publication date

22 January 2011


Mind & body