Over the years I've read this, then I've read that, and then the other, such that I really don't know what set things off at Chernobyl. For example, at one time I had read a supposedly authoritative report that pointed at Soviet scientific authorities as the responsible parties, because they had been conducting an experiment with the reactor and had ordered the plant operators, against their better judgement and wishes, to bypass a number of safety controls. Later on someone who seemed to know what he was talking about flatly contradicted this version. In the meantime, the Wikipedia article on the accident says there are two conflicting theories.
The only seemingly clear consensus is that this type of reactor should not have been used in civilan power production. Apparently this type of reactor was never sold outside the Soviet Union, and within the Soviet Union was used because the process yielded raw materials for nuclear bombs. But what do I know?
The Geiger counters continued to tick away for days as much as 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) away from the disaster zone, as air masses contaminated with radiation pushed across Europe. Many fears are justified. The major disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant proved the prophets wrong who underestimated the 'residual risk' of nuclear energy. A look back from the archives of DER SPIEGEL.
Editor's note: The following article appeared in the May 5, 1986 issue of DER SPIEGEL, just days after the world became aware of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. During the next few weeks, SPIEGEL ONLINE will publish a series of reports on the worst accident in the history of civilian nuclear energy and how it changed Europe and the world.