The Soviet Union knew the Chernobyl plant was a ticking time bomb for years before it melted down — but the government kept the nuclear facility running anyway.
Soviet leaders hid knowledge of the nuclear power plant’s flaws “to prevent panic and provocative rumors” before the catastrophic 1986 failure of the fourth reactor, according to new records released by Ukraine in conjunction with the 35th anniversary of the disaster.
The new documents reveal that, in 1982, safety monitors recorded an unplanned release of radiation at the plant, but the KGB suppressed news, Reuters reports.
“In 1983, the Moscow leadership received information that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was one of the most dangerous nuclear power plants in the USSR due to lack of safety equipment,” Ukraine’s security service (SBU) said in a statement. In 1984, plant staff documented multiple other unspecified “emergencies.”
It would eventually be a failed safety test in 1986 that set the reactor aflame.
After the cataclysm, the Soviets went so far as to sic the KGB on a French journalist who had collected water and soil samples in 1987, according to the documents.
Spies switched the dirt out for a dud that wasn’t radioactive.
More than 30 people died in the aftermath of the accident, which left a huge region around the plant uninhabitable to this day. But the longer-term death toll from radiation sickness remains a matter of debate.
“The 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy is a reminder of how state-sponsored disinformation, as propagated by the totalitarian Soviet regime, led to the greatest man-made disaster in human history,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement.