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From Chernobyl Child to Cosmopolitan. Social and Political Consequences of the Disaster in the Soviet Union and the United States

“Chernobyl children” is not only a common label for the youngest victims of the nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union on 26 April 1986, but also the name that many civic organizations involved in providing help to victims use. In a broader sense, this metaphor has also been applied to social, political, and technical actors who were not directly affected by Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout, including some as far away as the United States. In this paper, I examine the interplay between those different actors from local and global perspectives, and the social and political responses to the elusive threats of a major nuclear accident.
The many legacies of “Chernobyl” are closely intertwined with the Cold War.  Cold War divisions influenced perception of the disaster and the ways in which states and communities dealt with it. I analyze therefore not only the obvious differences because of the different underlying political, social and cultural systems of the societies, but also the similarities and commonalities transcending system boundaries based on the common challenge of having to deal with the profound uncertainties connected with the use of radioactivity. International and transnational involvement in the mitigation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster played an important role in the transfer of knowledge and resources. The paper looks at many of these transfer processes that were multidirectional and resulted in sometime rather paradoxical outcomes -- for example turning “Chernobyl children” into “cosmopolitans.” Archival material in the former Soviet republics and the United States, memoir literature and qualitative interviews with survivors, experts and activists provide the foundation for this analysis.



Tuesday, June 2, 2015. 12:00 PM


History Corner, Room 307


Center for International Security and Cooperation, CREEES Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies




Open to Stanford affiliates. RSVP requested.