Summer School 2021

Letting off steam: the Chernobyl disaster


Emeritus Professor David Wolfe, physicist

The nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in the Ukraine exploded on 26 April 1986. This was not a nuclear explosion at all but one caused by over-pressure in the cooling system. Nevertheless, an enormous amount of radioactive material was released into the atmosphere. The types of material were quite different from those released in the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nonetheless, the total amount of radiation released was about five hundred times that released in Hiroshima. The number of deaths from that accident is predicted to be around four thousand, whereas close to two hundred thousand died at Hiroshima. This course will discuss the accident, the consequences and the science behind all of this.



  1. The physics of nuclei and radiation
  2. The time leading up to the disaster and the explosion
  3. The exodus, the cover-up and repercussions 
  4. Crime and punishment: the populations in the vicinity and in Europe
  5. Consequences: energy production and the role of nuclear energy


This course will be offered on the Microsoft Teams platform. Participants will be sent a link.


Recommended reading

Plokhy, S. 2018. Chernjavascript:void('Copy')obyl: History of a Tragedy. London: Penguin Books.

Higginbotham, A. 2019. Midnight in Chernobyl. London: Corgi Books.

Alexeivich, S. Chernobyl Prayer. London: Penguin Books.

Mckeon, D. 2015. All that is solid melts into air. London: Penguin Books.


Date: 18–22 January
Time: 1.00 pm