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Matthew Young, Reference Librarian, Latin American, Caribbean & European Division
Created: December 12, 2019
Last Updated: July 7, 2021
On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the V. I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant transformed the quiet city of Chornobyl, Ukraine into the epicenter of a global disaster. Emitting 500 times more radiation than the atomic bomb dropped at Hiroshima, the explosion had profound environmental and health effects on the surrounding region that persist to this day. Although the incident has today become shorthand for the potential dangers of nuclear energy, it also had immediate geopolitical consequences for the Soviet Union. By exposing the flaws in the Soviet political apparatus, the accident instilled in Soviet citizens a sense of disillusionment that would culminate in the fall of the Iron Curtain five years later.
This guide provides an overview of the secondary and primary sources available at the Library on the Chernobyl nuclear accident and its impact. First, a note should be made about the variant spellings of Chernobyl and Chornobyl. Chernobyl is the Romanization of the Russian spelling of the town and is generally used in English to refer to the nuclear accident. Chornobyl is the Romanization of the Ukrainian spelling and is the current standard in English for the town itself. As this guide mainly addresses the nuclear accident, the variant Chernobyl will be used for consistency.
A variety of print and digital media are represented in this guide including books, newspapers, maps, films, manuscripts and electronic databases. With the disaster taking place in the Soviet Union, many resources, especially primary sources, are in Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian. Secondary sources can be found mainly in English, Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian. When searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog for resources in a language using the Cyrillic alphabet (e.g. Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian), it is necessary to transliterate the title or author's name into Latin letters. Conversion tables for the Library's Romanization system are available. While attempting to cover several approaches to Chernobyl, this guide primarily focuses on its social, political and environmental consequences as opposed to the technical aspects of the explosion or nuclear engineering in general. Last, it is important to keep in mind that this guide is not intended to be exhaustive but rather a starting point for research.