Identification initial significant signs of a potential collapse,

Identification and
evaluation of sources


This investigation
will examine the question: “To what extent did the Chernobyl nuclear disaster
influence the decline of the Soviet Union?”. The years covered by this
investigation span from 1980 to 1991. This time period allows for the
investigation to form a robust analysis of the fall of the Soviet Union, from
the initial significant signs of a potential collapse, up until the communist
regime fully dissipated. There are instances prior to 1980 that are indicative
of a future collapse, however they are not very significant to the
investigation, and the time frame chosen allows for a more focused analysis.
Also, the 1991 cutoff date for the investigation was chosen because information
related to this topic past this date would be post-soviet era, and would muddle
the heart of the topic being investigated.

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The first source
that will be evaluated is a scholarly article, “The Role of Chernobyl in the
Breakdown of the USSR”, written by Bohdana Kurylo. The origin of this source is
of value because it was written in 2016 by a PhD candidate. Bohdana Kurylo has
a BA (Hons) in History and Politics, from one of the most prestigious
universities in the world (University College of London), and she currently
attends the school of Slavonic and European studies. This qualifies her as a
good source for information related to this investigation. The purpose of the
article is to analyze the contributions of the Chernobyl disaster to the fall
of the Soviet Union. The source provides in substantial, in-depth knowledge,
directly related to the topic of this investigation. Moreover, she uses a
variety of over 30 sources, has accurate information, and has written the
article long enough after the Chernobyl incident so that its effects have had
enough time to be fully understood and developed. A drawback to this source is
that the extensive list of citations does not make it practical to verify the
credibility of every citation.

The second source
that will be evaluated is “Causes of the Soviet Collapse (1979-1991)” by Daniel
J. Castellano. The article was written in 2011, so enough time had passed for
accurate judgements to be made about the topic. The origin of this source is of
value because Daniel J. Castellano is an award-winning journalist and is a
correspondent of CNN in Spanish in Venezuela. He uses a diverse variety of 18
sources, and includes the exact portion of text he used to gather evidence from
his citations. The information in the article is robust, well structured, and
closely related to this investigation. The purpose of this article was to
evaluate the reasons behind the fall of the Soviet Union. A limitation to this
source is that the writer seems to lack a strong background in anything
directly related to this topic.


















The Chernobyl nuclear
melt down occurred in 1986, a mere 5 years prior to the complete fall of the Soviet
Union. This event took place during the latter half of the 45-year, high tensioned
conflict between the United States and Soviet Union (the Cold War). The nuclear
meltdown happened in a communist nation (Ukraine), and was caused by a
combination of human error and flawed design. The obvious effects of the
meltdown included death and severe, long-term health and environmental damage,
due to mismanagement. However, upon closer inspection it is clear that the Chernobyl
meltdown caused and signified much more. This event came to serve as a
reflection of the state of the Soviet Union, and had aided in the communist regime’s

Most historians agree that the Chernobyl
nuclear disaster impacted the fall of the Soviet Union. However, the extent of
this impact is debatable. I believe the Chernobyl meltdown significantly
influenced the decline of the Soviet Union, although it is clear it was not the
sole cause. This assertion is not only
fair, but also very accurate to make. This is based on the fact that multiple
events, each contributing to the overall demise of the Soviet Union, can be
identified. Moreover, the ways in which the Chernobyl melt down exacerbated these
events, and caused problems for the Soviet Union, in its own right, can also be

The first challenge
to the Soviet Union, heightened due to the Chernobyl melt down was Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership.
Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985. During his reign,
Gorbachev implemented controversial political doctrine. This doctrine included
the use of two principals, perestroika (reformation) and glasnost (openness).
Gorbachev claimed that he pushed the adoption of these ideas to allow the Soviet
Union to prosper. However, the opposite took place. Gorbachev’s political
tactics opened the door for the very essence of the Soviet Union to be
questioned, leading many once loyal subjects to want to break free of the
soviet union’s grip. Moreover, when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded,
extensive efforts were put in place to conceal, and down play the event.
Eventually, people under the Iron Curtain’s control took note of the soviet
union’s attempts to censor the event. This in turn led to the mass increase of questioning
the soviet union’s integrity, and its capability to properly govern its people.

 It may
be argued that this increased questioning of the solidity of Soviet Union was frivolous
to the overall collapse of the Soviet Union, thus minimizing the role of the
Chernobyl meltdown. This argument may seem valid based on the idea that the
other shortcomings of the soviet union’s political system would have eventually
led to failure, regardless of the Chernobyl meltdown. However, this is merely
an assumption. On the other hand, it is very clear that a large stigma was
placed on the Soviet Union by many of its people after the Chernobyl meltdown,
greatly contributing to the problems within this communist regime. Thus, an
assertion that can be fairly made is that the Chernobyl melt down did in fact
contribute considerably to the fall of the Soviet Union. In fact, the severity
of this stigma was clearly displayed through the various civil revolts against
the Soviet Union that began to develop in areas under the iron curtain’s
control, after the Chernobyl meltdown. The melt down had caused the people of
the Soviet Union to begin to passionately protest their flawed political
system. Many of these revolts snowballed from protests over the Chernobyl

Another event that caused the Soviet Union to
collapse, that was magnified by the Chernobyl meltdown was economic and
political pressure, particularly from the united states. America ended détente
in 1980. This once again raised cold war tension between the United States and
the Soviet Union. America began to show relentless hostility and criticism of
the Soviet Union, doing all it could to force the Soviet Union to crumble. The
United States started an arms race (that the soviets could not win), ceased trade
with the Soviet Union, and funded anti-communists in the soviet-Afghan war (which
was already strenuous without American intervention). All of these things
contributed to the soviet union’s already poor economy, and they once again
highlighted the soviet union’s faults. When the Chernobyl meltdown occurred, it
provided the united states with yet another opportunity to pressure the Soviet
Union. The collapse of the nuclear reactor came at a critical point. The previously
mentioned anti-Soviet tactics where all in effect and the Chernobyl meltdown
added insult to injury. Through this event, America was able to criticize the
soviet union’s recovery and reaction efforts, as well as their overall ability
to sustain itself. Additionally, America’s comparison of its relatively safe
and reliable nuclear reactors to the Chernobyl reactor (which had the same quality
and management as all other Soviet Union nuclear reactors) made the Soviet
Union’s nuclear management pale in comparison to that of the United States.
Moreover, this opened up comparisons between the United States and the
struggling Soviet Union in all other aspects, leading to a growing perception of
the communist regime as inferior. This sense of mediocracy carried through to
the people under Soviet rule, and contributed to the ultimate unraveling of the

Similarly, as with Mikhail Gorbachev’s
politics, the extent to which the Chernobyl nuclear disaster influenced the
decline of the Soviet Union (in regard to American political and economic
pressure) can be debated, in the same manner. Some may think that the detrimental
fundamental problems faced in the Soviet Union render pressure (amplified by
the Chernobyl meltdown) from the United States meaningless. However, it is unmistakable
that problems caused by America’s amplified pressure on the Soviet Union not
only caused new problems, but it also greatly worsened those same fundamental






















This investigation has allowed me
to greatly explore an interesting topic, that is typically quickly reviewed in
the standard curriculum. This investigation has also allowed me to grow as a
historian, as It forced me to experience the joys and challenges that come with
this type of work. 

To properly investigate this topic,
I was challenged with finding a variety of quality sources. This is a task all
historians face. Finding sources included reviewing publications from various
highly knowledgeable and reliable individuals, as well as primary sources.
However, many of the sources I came across contained superficial knowledge,
lacked information on the origin of the source, and lacked citations.
Additionally, many of the sources I encountered had similar information, making
the search for quality novel information difficult. Also, the most relevant
primary sources on this topic are in Russian, which I do not speak. This forced
me to rely on translations (that may or may not be accurate), and the
interpretations other people have made about primary sources.

Moreover, like all other
historians, the use of speculation, rather than relying on facts, was
unavoidable. This can lead to bias and inaccurate presentation of knowledge;
however, it is also what makes being a historian fun. I don’t believe bias was
present in the investigation, however the possibility still remains. Bias on my
part may stem from the fact that I am an American. So, this may have
subconsciously influenced how strongly I perceived America’s contribution to
dissolving the Soviet Union.

After the investigation, I was able
to create and justify a conclusion to the question “To what extent did the
Chernobyl nuclear disaster influence the decline of the Soviet Union?”. I
determined that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster had a significant influence on
the decline of the Soviet Union, while being one of many other factors that led
to the ultimate demise of the communist regime. I believe this is a very
appropriate and accurate conclusion. However, due to the subjective nature, and
varying interpretations of history (as previously mentioned, speculation is
often unavoidable as a historian), others will undoubtedly reach slightly
different, or possibly vastly different conclusions. This holds true even if
others have reviewed the exact same information as I had. My conclusions to the
topic, as with the conclusions all historians have to make, is an attempt at
coming close to the truth. Unlike mathematics or science, where conclusions are
concrete, conclusions made by historians can be accurate but never exactly
match the unattainable, ever elusive, truth. This may lead people to think all
conclusions made by historians are correct, however this is not true because
some conclusions are closer to the truth than others.  


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