Chernobyl disaster: Who was to blame for Chernobyl?

The Chernobyl accident in 1986 saw a nuclear reactor explode in the Ukraine-based Soviet Chernobyl plant. The violent chain reaction spewed nuclear radiation over Europe, as radioisotopes tore into the atmosphere. Official Soviet estimations have put death tolls from the disaster at 31, but some theorise thousands died from the nuclear fallout. The sequence of events leading to the explosion has been hotly debated and analysed over the last 30 years, including who is to blame.

Who was to blame for the Chernobyl incident?

The first episode of the HBO Chernobyl drama opens with a fictional quote from nuclear scientist and incident advisor Valery Legasov, played by The Crown star Jared Harris.

The scientist asks: “Who is to blame?

“In this story, it was Anatoly Dyatlov. He was the best choice.”


Anatoly Dyatlov was deputy chief engineer and control room supervisor on April 26, 1986, the day of the Chernobyl disaster.

The engineer was overseeing a test of the plant’s emergency safety mechanisms on the night the disaster took place.

According to reports following the incident, Dylatov threatened plant workers with termination if they failed to carry out the tests.

As core supervisor, he shouldered most of the blame, but Dylatov’s leadership is only one part of the full picture.


Chernobyl investigators tried Anatoly Dylatov alongside chief Chernobyl engineer Nikolai Fomin and plant manager Viktor Bryukhanov, for mishandling the event and failing to follow safety protocols.

All three were convicted of their alleged crimes and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

However, many plant workers were unaware there were abnormalities with the reactor.

The World Nuclear Association concluded the Chernobyl incident was the result of “a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel.”


The association also says the incident was a “direct consequence of Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of any safety culture.”

Dylatov was eventually pardoned, and his sentence in a Soviet labour camp halved.

He later remarked: "If I had known then what I know now about what kind of monster this reactor was, I would never have gone to work at Chernobyl.

“And not only me. Nobody would have worked there."

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