Harvard professor Serhii Plokhy has won this year’s £30,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction for his account of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy (Allen Lane) documents the events that led to the nuclear power plant accident, which contaminated half of Europe.
“We have to be super careful with nuclear energy, because it was introduced into the world as the cleanest energy possible,” said Plokhy, who grew up 500km downstream from the plant. “Today with global warming there is again another attempt to bring it back as a solution to the problems that we have today with climate, and the lesson that I learned from looking at Chernobyl is that yes it is the cleanest energy as long as nothing happens. Once it happens it is the dirtiest energy in the world.”
Fiammetta Rocco, The Economist’s culture correspondent and chair of the judging panel, said: “Serhii Plokhy’s Chernobyl is an unprecedented retelling of a familiar disaster. It is a horror story – of political cynicism and scientific ignorance – in which the world was saved only by heroism and luck. This extraordinary account leaves you wondering: could the narrowly missed nuclear Armageddon of Chernobyl happen again, with even worse consequences?”
Plokhy was chosen as a the winner from a shortlist that also included books by Hannah Fry, Ben Macintyre, Thomas Page McBee, Stephen R Platt and Carl Zimmer.