Chernobyl: Causes and Consequences of the World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, where he has won multiple teaching awards and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship. A native of Chicago, he earned his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Liulevicius has produced nine recorded lecture series on topics including: turning points of modern history, global explorers, espionage, World War I, diplomacy, dictatorships, the history of Eastern Europe, and Communism. He is the author of two books on German relations with Eastern Europe.



When a meltdown and explosion took place at the Soviet nuclear plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine on April 26, 1986, it rocked the world–with medical, environmental, political, and cultural aftershocks that continue to reverberate even today. The disaster exposed bureaucratic incompetence and secrecy, technological hubris, and truths about the regime and society. Amid the catastrophe, ordinary people reacted with a mixture of emotions, ranging from panic and despair to self-sacrificing courage. In this talk, we’ll examine all these aspects, the causes and consequences of the accident, and the memories (in the form of rumors, folklore, and bitter jokes) of this epic event. Finally, we’ll revisit Chernobyl today, when this site has again been in the news as the Russian invasion of Ukraine surges around this traumatized location.


Recommended Reading:

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana


Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe, by Serhii Plokhy


Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you consider the ultimate “lessons” of the Chernobyl disaster, if any?
  2. Is there a “best way” to memorialize the Chernobyl disaster?
  3. What was the ultimate cause of the Chernobyl accident? Were short-term or long-term factors more decisive?




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Joan Dalessandro

Politically engineered incompetence led to the disaster

An excellent detailing of the Soviet system of secrecy and hubris.

1 year ago
Marjorie Kravitz

Clear spoken, dynamic, excellent

He did an excellent job describing the disaster, its causes, aftermath and implication for today. Gave vivid examples for each point and had good visuals as well. He also recommended several books about the topic. Highly recommend this presenter!

1 year ago
Maggie Olmstead


A thorough and insightful look into the Chernobyl disaster. It answered many of my questions, and gave a wide-ranging overview of the books and films that have been generated by the survivors and other experts.

Thank you so much!

1 year ago
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