You have probably heard a good dozen different conspiracy theories about Chernobyl – and hopefully disregarded at least most of them as they are pretty much all bull-shit.
Sure, some of them are based on real events, the weird military exclusion zones that had nothing to do with the fallout and the fact that some angels of speed can travel the zone without dying. They all in one way or another sparked theories, most of them grasping at straws to explain things most people never even thought about. To the grand populace Chernobyl came and went, we lived and learned (or did we?) and even if a little worse for wear hardly anyone alive today can say they feel any impact of this massive human failure.
The winds blew the clouds across Europe, but the winds blew past and the clouds are now used to save family pictures and your company’s whole database. Occasionally a movie comes out – some good, others with zombies – and it will re-ignite attention for a while, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are de-dusted like CS-1-6 and for a few month the urban exploration websites get flooded with the same picture of a theme park.
And even those who believe that the whole thing was a massive cover-up even before the government tried to cover-up the accident only get it half right – because the real cover-up happened hundreds of miles north under command of the country that spans eleven time zones.
If you were around – or tend to get lost in the depths of Wikipedia – you may recall that the first to register the radiation was some guy in Sweden, a guy famous for being a side-note in the history books. But ask yourself: Do you really believe that between the Ukraine, Germany, Norway, all those countries in between or close to the first to notice was a guy in Sweden? Think again.
No, of course they weren’t, but those were the days where the „Official Cold War“ was nearing its end but no one really knew it yet and admitted to anything felt like giving the other side a chance to win this war. Seriously, back then talking to a Russian could get you arrested, or really just living next-door to a guy who had an uncle who used to say he had fond memories of his vacation to Russia.
So in that climate you can imagine that something like a reactor failure would be swept under the rug in East Germany maybe, but certainly not in the West and I seriously doubt that cloud had much respect for artificial borders.
So let’s take a closer look at what really happened, for I have the diaries of my grandfather who never quite recovered from trying to clean up that mess. The pages are old, brittle but then so is our current peace and yet it holds for now.
So, let me translate what I can, some parts may be a bit fuzzy because my Russian isn’t great and neither was his pen.
You might be aware of two things: There is a submarine base in Murmansk – which is conveniently close to Sweden if you take a look at a map – and you might have read that the story of Red October was based on a true story. In fact it is so conveniently close to Sweden that only the northern parts of Finland are in between and it seems a lot more likely that a region pretty much void of civilization might not immediately detect an invisible nuclear fallout passing by.
So yes, that is pretty much exactly where this went according to my Grandfather, just not the „real Red October“ but actually another submarine called the Последний выживший – or Last Survivor. Pretty ironic when you think about how it was the first and only nuclear submarine to be destroyed in any war, ever.
The rest of the story as far as my Grandfather was able to piece together from the little bits his superiors were willing – able – to tell went pretty close to the events of the book, movie and that real Red October. Take a moment to think about what chaos the book release must have caused, how many heads had to roll in an attempt to find the leak.
Anyway, here’s where the story takes a darker turn – darker than a country killing its own citizens hundreds of meters below the water in silence, solitude and darkness. It would have probably ended there, a cold grave for the traitors and lots of shredded papers and reports crossed out with black markers. But of course it didn’t.
You’ll probably see where this is headed already, but that doesn’t make it any better. Somehow, and I bet totally unexpected the submarine that took down the Last Survivor caused a whole lot of damage – who would have guessed that shooting torpedoes at a swimming power plant wasn’t such a good idea? All in the name of the Motherland of course and in fact no one ever found that second submarine so they probably got too close and got destroyed in the process.
And that left Mother Russia in a bit of a pinch: They didn’t want to admit anything about that whole ordeal, not that someone had betrayed them, nor that they had to destroy one of their own state-of-the-art submarines and certainly not that it hadn’t quite worked. But then you think about the political climate at the time and what would happen if either side detected radioactive clouds they weren’t responsible for: That explosion might not have stayed the last.
And so the plan was devised – by geniuses no doubt – to cause a minor accident, a lesser evil so to speak that would give them a reasonable explanation and maybe some minor setback in the public eye – a public who until that point had no reason to believe that nuclear power wasn’t the safest, cleanest power.
And that’s where the official timelines you can read up on really started. My grandfather gave a late-night visit to the lead engineer or whatever his position was, told him as little as he needed to know and presented a sealed letter from some people you don’t say no to. Either your signature on this contract or your brain, that kind of people.
The plan was to cause some issues, create some disturbance and then go back to the daily grind of one super-power fucking with another. And the rest is public on da interwebs, maybe except for the fact that the exclusion zone hides more than just invisible Roentgen.