The Great Chernobyl Acceleration

Event Date: 

Friday, February 8, 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Event Location: 

  • HSSB 6020

Event Contact: 

Joanne Nowak (

The explosion of reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on of April 26, 1986 is often described as “Mankind’s biggest nuclear accident.” Dr. Kate Brown argues that describing Chernobyl as an accident works like a broom to sweep away the larger story around it, which is more important. Exploring the larger Chernobyl Zone with the help of two biologists and a centenarian villager, Brown shows how the greater Pripyat Marshes, where the 1986 accident took place, was already sullied with elevated levels of manmade radioactivity before the plant was ever built. She also shows how major radioactive releases continue in the region to this day. By enlarging the scale and temporal dimension of this history, Brown shows how the Chernobyl accident serves as only an exclamation point in a chain of toxic exposures that remastered the landscape, society, politics, and bodies, not just locally, but globally.

Kate Brown is Professor of History in the Science, Technology and Society Department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Brown is the author of the prize-winning histories Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford 2013) and A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Harvard 2004). Brown was a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow. Her work has also been supported by the Carnegie Foundation, the NEH, ACLS, IREX, and the American Academy of Berlin, among others. Her latest book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future will be published by Norton (US), Penguin Lane (UK) and Czarne (Poland) in spring 2019 and by Actes Sud in France in October 2019.

This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology, the Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Energy Justice in Global Perspective, the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies Environmental Justice/Climate Justice Hub, and the Blum Center for Global Poverty Alleviation and Sustainable Development.

** Headshot credits to Annette Hornischer, courtesy of the American Academy in Berlin