WI: No Chernobyl Disaster

I just recently watched the Chernobyl miniseries. It was gut-wrenching, and to think it was way worse in real life compared to the watered-down version of the show. I did watch the Seconds from Disaster show as a kid, with the surviving people such as Yuri Korneev and Boris Stolyarchuk featured in the show, but it was not as gruesome as the miniseries.

Now, come to think of it, what would have happened if the Chernobyl disaster never occurred? Say, the control rods never had graphite tips or whatever, leading to the power surge.

What would be the ramifications to the Soviet Union? The cleanup did cost a lot of money, Gorbachev saying it may have bankrupted and caused the dissolution of the USSR (which I do believe in, tbh). Would the Soviet Union, and by extension, the entire Eastern Bloc, still survive to this day?

What about the future of nuclear power? I know the Three Mile Island incident hurt the nuclear power cause, but without Chernobyl, could it have been given a boost, at least in the Eastern Bloc?
 

Even if one of the RBMKs don't blow its lid at Chernobyl, there were plenty more, waiting.
Leningrad had 3 close calls, and Kursk one.
The record wasn't good,even if the OTL bullet is dodged, the Soviet were really playing Russian Roulette
 

Even if one of the RBMKs don't blow its lid at Chernobyl, there were plenty more, waiting.
Leningrad had 3 close calls, and Kursk one.
The record wasn't good,even if the OTL bullet is dodged, the Soviet were really playing Russian Roulette
Wait, there were near-accidents in Leningrad and Kursk? I did not know about this. Is it okay if you elaborate on this?
 
Wait, there were near-accidents in Leningrad and Kursk? I did not know about this. Is it okay if you elaborate on this?
From the wiki
The first accident at the plant occurred shortly after the first unit came online. On 7 January 1975, a concrete tank containing radioactive gases from Unit 1 exploded; there were no reported accident victims or radiation releases.[12][13]

Less than one month later, on 6 February 1975, the secondary cooling circuit of Unit 1 ruptured, releasing contaminated water into the environment. Three people were killed, and the accident was not reported in the media.[12][13]

On 28 November 1975, a fuel channel in Unit 1 suffered a loss of coolant, resulting in the degradation of a nuclear fuel assembly that led to a significant release of radiation lasting for one month. Immediately after the accident, the radiation level in Sosnovy Bor, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the affected power unit, was 600 mR/h; in total, 1.5 MCi was released into the environment.[14] The exposed inhabitants of the Baltic region were not notified of the danger. The accident was not reported in the media. (Practically the same accident occurred in Unit 1 of the Chernobyl Power Station in 1982.)[12][13][15]

In July 1976 and again in September 1979, due to a poor safety culture, fire broke out in a concrete vault containing radioactive waste. Water used in extinguishing the fires was contaminated, leaked into the environment, and entered the water table. This was not reported in the media.[15][13]

On 28 December 1990, during refurbishment of Unit 1, it was noticed that the space between the fuel channels and the graphite stack (contaminated during the 1975 accident) had widened. The contaminated graphite was spilled, and the radiation levels in the space under the reactor increased. Radiation was detected 6 km away from the unit, but this was not reported in the media.[15][13]

On 3 December 1991, due to faulty equipment and lax safety rule compliance, 10 new fuel rods were dropped and damaged. The staff tried to conceal the accident from the management.[13]

In March 1992, an accident at the Sosnovy Bor nuclear plant leaked radioactive gases and iodine into the air through a ruptured fuel channel. This was the first accident at the station that was announced in the news media.[16]

On 27 August 2009, the third unit was stopped when a hole was found in the discharge header of a pump.[17] According to the automated radiation control system, the radiation situation at the plant and in its 30-kilometre (19 mi) monitoring zone was normal.[17] The plant's management refuted rumors of an accident and stated that the third unit was stopped for a "short-term unscheduled maintenance", with a restart scheduled for 31 August 2009.[18]

On 19 December 2015, unit 2 was stopped (scrammed) due to a broken steam pipe. No radioactively contaminated material was released. The situation inside Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant and the industrial area around the station has not changed and the radiation level remains within the limits of natural background values.

On 22 December 2018, the first unit of Leningrad NPP was shut down for decommissioning. The full unloading of the nuclear fuel from within the unit is planned to take until 2023

One of the Kursk Reactors scramed back in 2011, and was offline for a good amount of time, Russian never really said what went wrong there, that made sense.

Some things didn't change, it seems

They did stop construction on RBMK unit #5 when Chernobyl popped, so learned at least one thing.
 
It's been said Chernobyl was the body blow that accelerated disbelief and mistrust in the Soviet government, which led to the events of 1989-91. So, that's a big butterfly right there. But as a previous poster said, RBMK reactors were a time bomb waiting to go off. Chernobyl was just the one to pull the short straw.
 
How about the ramifications on the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc itself, though? Was the Eastern Bloc still possible to save even in the late 1980s?
Warsaw Pact was already showing the cracks that would doom it, Poland would be out from labor troubles no later than 1990, even if there is no explosion. Same for Hungary, and they had one of the stronger economies.
 

Even if one of the RBMKs don't blow its lid at Chernobyl, there were plenty more, waiting.
Leningrad had 3 close calls, and Kursk one.
The record wasn't good,even if the OTL bullet is dodged, the Soviet were really playing Russian Roulette
Covering up the incident is not possible for long if it happens in Leningrad or Ignalina. If the winds are from east to west Finland will get radiation warnings possibly before Moscow actually knows what is going on. If Ignalina with the same winds as Tjernobyl the Swedish power plant in Oskarshamn will serve as the warning to the west instead of Forsmark and that one day instead of two.

If it is Leningrad Finland might need to evacuate its people around their capital and might be a bit unhappy with the Soviet union
 
Covering up the incident is not possible for long if it happens in Leningrad or Ignalina. If the winds are from east to west Finland will get radiation warnings possibly before Moscow actually knows what is going on. If Ignalina with the same winds as Tjernobyl the Swedish power plant in Oskarshamn will serve as the warning to the west instead of Forsmark and that one day instead of two.

If it is Leningrad Finland might need to evacuate its people around their capital and might be a bit unhappy with the Soviet union
If it's Leningrad... Well there goes one of Europe's largest cities.
 
If the incident happened further east, it would be easier for the Soviets to cover it up (less fallout in surrounding countries), unless it's Leningrad - it's huge both in terms of population and political importance.

EDIT: And I also believe that Chernobyl had little importance when it came to the dissolution of the bloc.
 
What would be the ramifications to the Soviet Union? The cleanup did cost a lot of money, Gorbachev saying it may have bankrupted and caused the dissolution of the USSR (which I do believe in, tbh). Would the Soviet Union, and by extension, the entire Eastern Bloc, still survive to this day?
Gorbachev wished to use Chernobyl as an excuse for his own failures:
As oil prices fell, Gorbachev tried to maintain living standards which resulted in major growth in the budget deficit. Before Gorbachev came to power, the budget was balanced or even had a small surplus. In 1985, the deficit grew to 2% GDP, by 1990, it reached 10% GDP. In 1991, the last year of the Soviet Union, the deficit exceeded astronomical 30% GDP (p. 152).

The fiscal crisis was partly explained by a collapse in global oil prices but was partly handmade. First, Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign reduced revenues from excise taxes. Second, in order to keep the industrial and agricultural lobbies happy, the government continued to subsidize their inputs and raise prices for their outputs. At the same time, in order to pacify the general public, consumer prices were kept low. Gorbachev also avoided cutting expenditure on public goods and tried to maintain living standards. He decided that–unlike Deng–he would not use force to suppress protesters and therefore tried to avoid the situation where people took to the street to voice their economic grievances.

To fund the deficit, the government resorted to borrowing. The foreign debt increased from 30% of GDP in 1985 to 80% of GDP in 1991 (p. 152). As the markets were growing increasingly reluctant to lend, the government funded the deficit by printing money. The official prices were still controlled, so the monetization of budget deficit resulted in “repressed inflation”, increased shortages and higher prices in black markets. Eventually Soviet Union ran out of cash and collapsed.

Miller’s account shows that both oil price shock and the impact of the anti-alcohol campaign were not the major drivers of the fiscal crisis. The main factors were lack of resolve in tackling the interest groups and in maintaining fiscal discipline as well as incompetence in basic economics.
 
What would be the ramifications to the Soviet Union? The cleanup did cost a lot of money, Gorbachev saying it may have bankrupted and caused the dissolution of the USSR (which I do believe in, tbh). Would the Soviet Union, and by extension, the entire Eastern Bloc, still survive to this day?

What about the future of nuclear power? I know the Three Mile Island incident hurt the nuclear power cause, but without Chernobyl, could it have been given a boost, at least in the Eastern Bloc?
I am inclined to think that getting lucky at Chernobyl would have led to a disaster later on. As things were, the Soviet Union was pushing to make nuclear power "normal" at all possible speed (way too much speed, if we're honest) which meant overall management of nuclear power plants had been transferred away from the R&D outfits that had designed them, the staff were trained to about the same level as the staff of a Soviet coal power plant and safety was a lower priority than meeting consumer demand.

But nuclear powerplants aren't coal power plants and the RMBK was an especially temperamental design. The Soviets were planning to build a good number more (exact numbers are buried deep in a cupboard at the moment - but I can recommend a book called "Red Atom" for the details of this story) since it had been designed to be a cheap massproduceable reactor. That means lots of opportunities for under-trained crews to let the reactor get out of control and shower the Soviet Union and its neighbours with radioactive debris.

On the other hand, there are ways to avoid Chernobyl that also lead to safer RMBK reactors. For example, maybe the reactor has a mishap, but not one as serious as OTL. Since this mishap is happening during the same test as OTL, it pushes the Soviets to make the improvements to the reactor's safety features that they were considering before the ill fated test that led to OTL's disaster.

Or alternatively, the test is planned for the night and the best trained operators are pulling a special shift due to some foresight that running a test during the day and providing Kiev's citizens power to turn on their kettles aren't compatible. With a more experienced crew and with the test happening at the planned time, it never goes out of control, but does provide enough concerning data that the RMBK reactors are taken back under the oversight of the scientists and while the safety upgrades follow slowly over the coming years, they're enough to avoid any serious accident in combination with stricter oversight.

Of course, those safety upgrades also make the RMBK more expensive, so while more might be built in either of those scenarios, likely not as many as were planned.It

It is possible that if the Soviet Union avoids the Chernobyl disaster or worse that this will give enough leeway for a successful reform. I'm not sure what kind of reform though. Is the Party still paramount in such a TL? Or does Gorbachev follow a path like that of OTL where he destroys the Party's monopoly of power, and introduces something like the new union treaty - only to have just enough political capital to push it through?

As to the future of nuclear power. The utilities in the US have still gone into debt building nuclear power plants no-one needed (due to excessive projections of demand) and paying off the debts of those unbuilt power plants will ruin the US nuclear industry. Less anti-nuclear sentiment maybe leads to a couple more being built, but no more than that. The Soviets will build too much as well, but since they need to cut coal plants that are too old and uneconomical if exposed to the real coal price, they'll likely end up with more nuclear generation in TTL. If the Soviet economy holds together reasonably well, maintenance should be kept up. If the economy falters like OTL (unlikely to be nearly as bad if the Soviet Union remains together), there's a chance that poor maintenance of the reactors in the country leads to an accident serious enough to make headlines.

I'm not sure about the impacts elsewhere. I am less familiar with the nuclear economies of other countries. I do wonder if Germany might go more nuclear. Certainly Soviet allies would have a few more reactors. Probably a few export RMBKs in that unfortunately.

fasquardon
 
That's one hell of an economic mismanagement

If the incident happened further east, it would be easier for the Soviets to cover it up (less fallout in surrounding countries), unless it's Leningrad - it's huge both in terms of population and political importance.

EDIT: And I also believe that Chernobyl had little importance when it came to the dissolution of the bloc.
Well, Krasnoyarsk Krai was available.



As well with Yakutia in case of an explosion



Both are sparsely populated and when the fallout arrives, depending on the wind patterns, the radiation can go north. Note that it's a can. But I do imagine the Americans, Canadians, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, and Mongolians will NOT be happy about it.
 
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Is the Party still paramount in such a TL?
I dunno. IIRC, Chernobyl made Gorby appreciate dissent more. But at the same time, without Chernobyl, Gorby's still a reformer. Granted it would be more gradual than IOTL, so I don't see him so much as going back to the Brezhnev era. Maybe a future student-led protest like in China, but it succeeds?

Or does Gorbachev follow a path like that of OTL where he destroys the Party's monopoly of power, and introduces something like the new union treaty - only to have just enough political capital to push it through?
Though I agree with @marathag; Eastern Europe would be out of the Eastern Bloc no later than 1992, and the Baltics later on. The rest of the Soviet Union could be held together, though in a New Union Treaty, especially if the economy was in less worse shape.
 
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no Chernobyl
Though I agree with @marathag; Eastern Europe would be out of the Eastern Bloc no later than 1992, and the Baltics later on. The rest of the Soviet Union could be held together, though in a New Union Treaty, especially with the economy in a less worse shape.
I think this very much depends on whether the Party is demolished. If the Communist parties in the satellites retain most of the levers of power and aren't critically undermined by events in the Soviet Union, I suspect that the WarPac states would remain Soviet aligned, though the changes would be significant.

I dunno. IIRC, Chernobyl made Gorby appreciate dissent more. But at the same time, without Chernobyl, Gorby's still a reformer. Granted it would be more gradual than IOTL, so I don't see him so much as going back to the Brezhnev era. Maybe a future student-led protest like in China, but it succeeds?
Why would the reform be more gradual than OTL?

To my mind, the questions here are as follows:

1) How much is the general economy improved by removing the human and resource costs of the disaster?
2) How much does greater trust by the population translate into more successful reform?
2) a. How much more trust is there without Chernobyl anyway?
3) Does no disaster give Gorbachev enough political capital to push more reforms though?
4) Does no disaster give the Soviet economy enough slack that Gorbachev can continue bribing other powerful influence brokers in the Soviet heirarchy?
4) a. Does he have enough slack to keep the bribes up long enough to start accumulating even more power to himself as the old brokers die and does the economy start growing in time to keep up the bribe bill? (In OTL Gorbachev spent money like water keeping guys like Gromyko on side, which is why spending in the late Soviet Union was out of control.)

In general, I suspect that all these factors add up to Gorbachev being able to work within the Communist Party longer, but eventually feeling like he has to destroy the party to get reform through because I think he'll still run out of resources to keep bribing big players to play along before the reforms can really stand on their own feet. Even so, the Communist Party imploding a year or two or three later than OTL could have very interesting effects.

fasquardon
 
I'd imagine that a near failure would result in the Soviets responding by redoubling their efforts on other plants just to be safe.

Zor
 
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I think this very much depends on whether the Party is demolished. If the Communist parties in the satellites retain most of the levers of power and aren't critically undermined by events in the Soviet Union, I suspect that the WarPac states would remain Soviet aligned, though the changes would be significant.
Fair point.

1) How much is the general economy improved by removing the human and resource costs of the disaster?
2) How much does greater trust by the population translate into more successful reform?
2) a. How much more trust is there without Chernobyl anyway?
3) Does no disaster give Gorbachev enough political capital to push more reforms though?
4) Does no disaster give the Soviet economy enough slack that Gorbachev can continue bribing other powerful influence brokers in the Soviet hierarchy?
4) a. Does he have enough slack to keep the bribes up long enough to start accumulating even more power to himself as the old brokers die and does the economy start growing in time to keep up the bribe bill? (In OTL Gorbachev spent money like water keeping guys like Gromyko on side, which is why spending in the late Soviet Union was out of control.)
Imma try to answer:

1. The Chernobyl disaster cost around $24 billion (18 billion Soviet rubles), or roughly 1% of the Soviet economy. That's the immediate cost of the Chernobyl disaster when it was being cleaned. It does not take into account the effects of radiation on the surrounding areas, the decimation of economic activity in the 2600 sq. km. - exclusion zone, the loss of agricultural lands, disrupted industries, etc. I think it safe to say the disaster cost 2-5% of the Soviet GDP, overall in the immediate years after the catastrophe. The IAEA says the total cost over 30 years $235 billion, after all. Safe to say, the Soviet economy would really have much more leeway for more productive matters without the disaster.

Not to mention further RBMK nuclear power plant construction was halted after the incident. If a near-miss in Chernobyl occurs, or the safety test was conducted and found serious flaws in the RBMK design and were fixed, then we would expect much more Soviet investment perhaps in nuclear energy, so at least we have to take into account reduced economic costs from power outages there.

2. I think it would be a not-so-insignificant account. There's talk that the way the Soviets covered up the incident and exposed so many citizens to radiation contributed to that. Also, with money that would have gone to the cleanup going instead to fund the civilian economy, then it could have meant more support from the people.

3. If the economy doesn't go haywire in such a TL, my amateur opinions says he would have gotten more political capital. He won't get flak from hardliners for such an incident. But at the same time, why I think the reforms would have been gradual was because the incident caused greater pressure from reformists to do something regarding glasnost and perestroika, to whom he had more affinity to than the hardliners, especially towards the end.

Another thought: Because Gorbachev would feel a less urgent need to appeal to the reformist cause without Chernobyl, he tries to work within the CPSU and keeps the Party's standing more paramount. Kinda what happened to China, but with no tanks on Red Square, just some media disinformation, imprisonments and some ingested isotopes :)rolleyes:) here and there as a gift of the KGB to those who opposed CPSU hegemony. Because he still works within CPSU infrastructure, he'd be constrained regarding reform and would be more gradual.

So maybe @fasquardon, had the communist/socialist parties in the Eastern Bloc been kept as the paramount parties, then maybe very gradual reform could have occurred without breaking the Bloc. Maybe Poland could accept gradualism under Polish Communist rule. As for East Germany, only Honecker remained as the hurdle. However, in Romania, we have Ceaușescu as a BIG problem, but if he could try to pull a Poland 1980-1981 on the protesters, then things may have held up.

4. With the economy in better shape, he could give more bribes, that's for sure. I kinda forgot a bit that a lot of people in the Soviet leadership weren't wholly devoted to communism, but where just there for the money and prestige. What kind of bribes, exactly? Besides simple money transfers to the Soviet leaders, I guess it includes mark-ups and funding for pet projects?
 
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If the economy doesn't go haywire in such a TL
It took something like 11-9 years in the Soviet system for investments to be made and the economic growth from that investment to occur. So a big part of the struggle in the 80s was the Soviet economy being weighed down by Brezhnev-era mal-investment and bad decisions. Not to mention reform being an inherently disruptive process and the economic burden of the exhaustion of the mineral resources of the European part of the Union.

With such a late PoD, I don't really see how the Soviets can avoid the economy going haywire. Though it may be significantly less than OTL, it's still going to be hard times.

4. With the economy in better shape, he could give more bribes, that's for sure. I kinda forgot a bit that a lot of people in the Soviet leadership weren't wholly devoted to communism, but where just there for the money and prestige. What kind of bribes, exactly? Besides simple money transfers to the Soviet leaders, I guess it includes mark-ups and funding for pet projects?
Oh no, they were fully devoted to Communism alright (at least the overwhelming majority were). But the real core system (inherited from the Tsars and metastasized into something even worse during the Soviet era) was a sort of eternal bureaucratic turf war where to advance one needed to maintain good relations with patrons while also patronizing people lower on the ladder than you so that you had a good pool of underlings who owed everything to you.

These patronage networks thrived by keeping information secret, so that they could make themselves indispensable to other patronage networks (this by the way was the reason for the Soviet addiction to secrecy - not military industrial complex paranoia) and by members doing favours for each other. To a certain extent, those favours were a necessary lubricant in a poorly designed system. Don't have the materials needed to build this month's T34 quota? Phone your patron to see if he can scrounge up some steel that fell off the back of a lorry! But also many favours were also outright corruption and parasitism. As is so often when corruption gets real bad in a society, the line between necessary rule breaking to live in a broken system and unnecessary rule breaking for selfish ends isn't clear - I doubt there were many Soviet citizens who thought they were corrupt.

So when I say "bribes" I am talking about things like the massive over-funding of agriculture. The Soviet Union already used excessive amounts of fertilizer and pesticides in agriculture before Gorbachev came to power, but to buy off the patronage clique in the agricultural ministry Gorbachev sent spending on a breakneck rise - a rise that mostly, as far as I can tell, really went into more pesticides and fertilizers that the Soviets didn't need. Of course, in the short term this meant the patronage network enjoyed increased prominence and the allied industries could over-fulfill their production quotas for fertilizer and pesticide and thus enjoy bigger bonuses... In other words petty corruption, systemic waste and what people genuinely thought would be useful investment were all entangled in a nasty snarl.

(Also, the patronage network system is why talking about "liberals" and "hardliners" isn't very useful in the Soviet context, because it assumes that the Communist Party had wings like a Western party, when actually it was more complex. Gorbachev for example, who we now consider a reformist or liberal, was patronized by men like Suslov and Andropov - who were considered hardliners. Indeed, there was a minor panic when Gorbachev ascended to power as the CIA looked at how many positions he was firing people from and filling with his own men and figured "aii, hardliner is centralizing power to scary extent, batten down the hatches!" Of course, the real reason Gorbachev was filling so many positions with his chosen men is because the men he was replacing were crazy far past retirement. The crushing casualties of WW2 basically meant there was a whole missing generation which effected not just top leadership, but especially middle management.)

Another thought: Because Gorbachev would feel a less urgent need to appeal to the reformist cause without Chernobyl, he tries to work within the CPSU and keeps the Party's standing more paramount. Kinda what happened to China, but with no tanks on Red Square, just some media disinformation, imprisonments and some ingested isotopes :)rolleyes:) here and there as a gift of the KGB to those who opposed CPSU hegemony. Because he still works within CPSU infrastructure, he'd be constrained regarding reform and would be more gradual.
Well, the issue here is that Gorbachev isn't Deng, the Soviet Union isn't China and Brezhnev surely was no Mao.

fasquardon
 
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Its just a matter of sooner or later. The RBMK design was flawed and Soviet nuclear workers were not as well trained (trust issues) as their Western counterparts.
 
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