HBO’s Chernobyl’s Authenticity a Hit Among Russians

May 26, 2019

Horrifically relevant to today.

Game of Thrones was not about Dragons.
Just so, “Chernobyl” is not about radiation.

What is the cost of lies?
It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth..
the real danger is that if we hear enough
lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at 
What can we do then?

Slava Malamud on Twitter:

I have just finished watching Episode 1 of Chernobyl on @HBO. My perspective is that of someone born and raised in the Soviet Union who has vivid memories of 1986, the catastrophe itself and how it was handled by the Soviet politicians and the state media…

First of all, it is almost inconceivable that a Western TV show would go to this amount of detail authentically portraying Soviet life in that era, knowing full well that its target audience (Western viewers) would never appreciate the effort or indeed even understand it…

Trust me, I try very hard to find inaccuracies, however minor. The Americans, a show with similar fetish-like obsession with authenticity, had plenty of small and big Soviet errata to be entertained with. Improperly fastened military shoulder bars, that sort of thing… Not here.

One reviewer made a point eerily relevant to the Age of Trump.

Jennifer Erameeva in Moscow Times:

“Chernobyl” is so hard to watch because of the all too human themes creator Craig Mazin has woven into his masterful script. Mazin and his team have done their homework, immersing themselves into the history, science, and even the tick-tock of Chernobyl, as well as first-hand accounts in Nobel prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s “Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.” Watching the show is a crash course in nuclear physics, but more importantly, it is a thought-provoking exploration of the importance of truth and the nature of self-sacrifice.

“We live in a time where people seem to be re-embracing the corrosive notion that what we want to be true is more important than what is true,” Craig Mazin says of the series. “It’s as if truth has become a joke. One of the most important lessons of “Chernobyl” is that the truth does not care about us. The Soviet system was soaking in this cult of narrative, and then one day the truth erupts. This is why this story is more relevant than ever.”


20 Responses to “HBO’s Chernobyl’s Authenticity a Hit Among Russians”

  1. Jeffery Green Says:

    “We live in a time where people seem to be re-embracing the corrosive notion that what we want to be true is more important than what is true,” Craig Mazin says of the series.

    Boy does that ever ring true in the United States.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    One might ask why this 33-years-ago incident is worthy of such an effort by a “Western TV show”. I guess we’ve sunk the Titanic, found our “Roots”, fought the Civil War, and watched Custer die enough times that we needed something “new”.

    OR, perhaps, just perhaps, the talk about developing small, efficient, safe, clean modular nukes as a major part of solving the global warming catastrophe has caused the fossil fuel interests to sink some $$$ into a last ditch effort to drive the final nails into nuclear power’s coffin?

    It will be fun to watch the renewed debate about how much of a disaster Chernobyl was (or wasn’t).

    • greenman3610 Says:

      the nuclear swamp is not, and never was, about body counts.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        No, it has been about fear-mongering and near nut jobs like Jacobson nattering on about why it won’t work, and the ONLY argument against it is COST—-I will again ask what price we are willing to pay to save the planet?

        The “body count” is actually one of the things that speaks in favor of nuclear—-NO deaths EVER in the USA from commercial nukes, and very few around the world. In contrast, ~100 people die every day in car accidents in the USA alone.

        • greenman3610 Says:

          agree the fear factor is overdone.
          However, the key decisions made about nuclear have not been made by emotional hippies, but rather by stone cold investors on Wall Street, and that continues to be the case.
          Again, worthwhile to review the history of Emergency Core Cooling Systems design failures, described here.

          Not about bodies, it’s about very expensive hardware going up in smoke, and ratepayers and taxpayers getting the bill.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            The “stone cold investors” on Wall Street are, we can be sure, some of the hidden forces behind the anti-nuke movement. Warren Buffet is investing another $10 billion in oil, and the Bank of America is heavily involved in the deal (and BH is the biggest shareholder of BofA—coincidence?). There is still much $$$$ to be made in fossil fuels, and those “investors” are going to greedily gather it up over the stone cold bodies of much of the life on the planet.



            It’s almost laughable that you bring up “hardware going up in smoke”—-there have been only two major disasters, while all the other plants just keep fissioning away. I will ask yet again, what price we are willing to pay to save the planet?

          • mboli Says:

            Some thoughts and reactions to the above discussions.
            a) A lot of people died. About 50 died fighting the disaster. The low estimate of subsequent early deaths is 4000, high estimates range to nearly 100,000.
            b) It isn’t the biggest radiological disaster in history, or even in Europe. That one is the East Urals Radioactive Trace. No reactors were involved, it was an explosion of radioactive waste.
            c) What is killing the nuclear power industry in the US is a combination of economics and the fossil fuel generating industry. Many nuclear generating stations produce power at above market rates. The operators have asked for a certain amount of rate subsidy, which has to be passed individually in each state.
            In each instance the fossil fuel trade association has opposed the subsidies, and in many cases gone to court, to block agreements that would keep nuclear power plants alive. (The wind industry has also been a part of this sometimes.)

            My own feeling is that losing all those nuclear generating stations is a shame. They don’t emit greenhouse gasses, they are sunk costs. We are losing them because we haven’t figured out how to properly price carbon emissions.

  3. greenman3610 Says:

    The TMI accident was a 2 billion dollar hit to somebody, which in 1980, was real money.
    again, my judgements, laughable or not, in this area mean nothing, and never have.
    It’s the judgement of big ticket investors, so by all means take it up with them.

    • redskylite Says:

      I can’t help mentioning the huge profits that were made from WWII as it is often made as an analogy to the situation we are in now. A certain family (when ventured out on the city streets) were soundly applauded in their finery at the end of the war, by a starving, ragged and a thoroughly beaten population of the same nationality – they had employed slaves and profited from misery and death.

      We can and will do better this time.

      1933-1945 – Krupp Under the Nazis

      Production of iron and steel by the Gusstahlfabrik and the Friedrich-Alfred-Huette increased from 1,500,000 tons in 1932 to 4,000,000 tons in 1938. Production, in Reichsmarks, in the business year ending 1942 was about five and one half times that of the pre-Hitler depression year ending in 1932. The number of employees increased from 35,000 in 1932 to 112,000 in 1939. Part of this expansion was financed directly by the German Government and large German banks and part by Krupp, and resulted in a production in excess of and different from the needs of a peacetime economy.

    • jfon Says:

      From what I’ve heard, TMI was a heavy blow to the nuclear build industry, a brand new billion dollar investment rendered worthless in a day. But equally so were other plants which were completed, but never switched on – Zwentendorf in Austria in 1978, Shoreham on Long Island, through the eighties. The mass protests that stopped the plants, aided by politicians like Mario Cuomo jumping on the bandwagon, were provoked by the story that an accident could leave an uninhabitable wasteland. The movie ‘The China Syndrome’ had the molten core melting its way down ‘ to China’, and rendering ‘an area the size of Pennsylvania’ uninhabitable. Coincidentally, the film came out twelve days before the TMI accident happened in Pennsylvania. In other respects, it was less prescient. The molten core did not make it out through the bottom of the containment, nobody suffered any injuries, and Pennsylvania is still fairly livable – partly because it gets more of its power from nuclear than from any other source, so air pollution is lower.
      The ‘Chernobyl’ series has the same premise. The Kremlin leaders are told that if the molten ‘corium’ reaches the water storage below the reactor, it would ‘instantly’ flash to steam, destroy the other three reactors at the site, and ‘leave Europe uninhabitable for 500,000 years’. Gorbachev has to authorise a ‘suicide mission’ to help pump the water out.
      In fact, the molten core ‘lava’ never did reach the water storage area, and the ‘suicide squad’, clearly wasn’t – undoubtedly brave men, one died twenty years later, and the other two are still alive. But could the nightmare scenario have happened ? Almost certainly not. When the reactor accident happened, there was a positive feedback -a surge of neutrons, that took the rate of fission from the minimum, to possibly a hundred and twenty times the 3,200 MW thermal designed maximum output. That certainly caused a steam explosion. There was plenty of water there, not just inside the core, but also in a tank surrounding it, 500 tons of it. The steam explosion was powerful enough to throw the thousand ton lid of the reactor into the air, and rain red hot fuel and graphite all over the site, but had no effect on the other three reactors.
      Once the core had exploded, fission ceased. A reactor needs uranium and neutron moderator to be in the right geometry for a chain reaction to continue. Most reactors nowadays use water as the moderator, but to do so, they need the fuel to be enriched to about 4% U235. Chernobyl used graphite as the moderator, and the fuel was only enriched to 2%, so with the water boiled or blown off, and the graphite scattered, the only nuclear source of heat was the decay heat from radioactive fission products, which is only about 6% of the heat from full power fission right after shutdown, and only 0.4% after one day. Nor was the graphite ‘burning’, in the sense of sustained combustion. Nuclear grade graphite, though it will disintegrate at extremely high temperatures, will not sustain a fire – it is too good a heat conductor, and has no impurities that might catch at lower temperatures. Graphite powder is actually used in fire extinguishers for metal fires. The wreckage would have been hot enough, in places, for things like steel to ‘burn’, or the asphalt roofing, but it was only going to get cooler. Any subsequent steam explosion was going to be much smaller than the initial one.
      Europe ‘ uninhabitable for half a million years ‘? Not really. About a thousand people sneaked back into the exclusion zone, and live there peasant style, getting all their food from their gardens, and the forest. They’re generally healthier than the evacuees. Wild animals have also reinvaded the zone, and are thriving. The cooling water canals right next to the reactor are full of fish – not three-eyed ‘Blinky’ off ‘The Simpsons’, but six foot catfish, taking advantage of no human predators. Apart from thyroid cancers, caused by the ~month or so that iodine 131 stayed active, there is no evidence of widespread effects of radiation on public health. The health effects that are evident, and widespread, are psychological in origin – depression, alcoholism, unnecessary abortions, loss of community. Ironically, if the Soviet leaders had succeeded in hushing up the accident, the people of the area would probably have been much better off.

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        A thousand upthumbies for justicefpn for most excellent information dump.

        Construction workers are onsite, building a new dome (?). Probably will not effect the tourist tour industry, and hope the animal ‘refuge’ continues.
        Remember, the habitability of the world is REALY at risk and not from horror fairy tales.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        A nit:

        The Kremlin leaders are told that if the molten ‘corium’ reaches the water storage below the reactor, it would ‘instantly’ flash to steam, destroy the other three reactors at the site, and ‘leave Europe uninhabitable for 500,000 years’. Gorbachev has to authorise a ‘suicide mission’ to help pump the water out.

        Dismissing the hyperbolic warning, a phreatic explosion would have been extremely bad, geysering steam laden with radioactive particles well into the atmosphere. My takeaway was that the water beneath the reactor was a deliberately designed “feature” meant as a failsafe coolant, when in fact it was poorly thought out.

        That said, coal-burning plants around the world have been emitting radioactive particles from their smokestacks for decades, putting them in lungs where they can cause the most damage directly in contact with living tissue (unlike the epidermis).

      • jimbills Says:

        It’s an impressive comment, definitely. Nothing you said there is technically wrong as well as far as I can tell, so thanks for that. But with any argument that takes a strong for or against position, there is invariably a lot of info left out to help paint one side in a more favorable light.

        Here are some:

        1) No matter how you look at, Chernobyl was a screw up of epic proportions. While I also think this HBO series (which does look extremely well done) will have a negative effect (and potentially a large one) on the public’s willingness to build more nuclear plants, it’s a legitimate subject for a drama. This event happened.

        2) At the time, the three men who were sent to release the water storage were sent there because there was the real fear that it could happen (whether it would or not is moot, they strongly believed it could happen). Gorbachev and others who were there attest to this. It’s not a ‘premise’ made up for the HBO series. It also happened.

        3) The catfish in the cooling canals are there. As far as I can tell, there are no known mutations documented in them. But, I seriously doubt you’d want to eat them, and there are plenty of documented cases of wildlife mutations in the area. They do exist.

        4) The wildlife thrives there solely because there are few people there. Large populations of humans in any area tend to greatly reduce predator and large mammal populations. No people, more wildlife. Chernobyl is the causal factor, but it or the radiation is not the real reason why the wildlife is thriving there.

        5) Several hundred babushkas were allowed back in to the exclusion zone. They have lived there for decades. But they also know to avoid certain areas and to avoid things like wild mushrooms. Their longer lives when compared to many who moved are generally attributed to a ‘happier’ existence. They could maintain the lifestyles they wanted and avoided the alcoholism and despair that plagued those that were moved. But, that said, IF everyone had been allowed to stay, there very likely would be many cases of thyroid cancers and other issues – higher population, more cases. So, take your pick.

        6) The ‘thousand’ that you mentioned being there are more recent arrivals who have fled to the region in the recent years to escape the war-torn areas in the southeast of Ukraine. Property prices are low near Chernobyl for obvious reasons, and they feel safer there than were they had been living. They mostly live on the edges of the exclusion zone.

        7) There is no way even the Soviet Union could have kept this situation a secret. The radiation was detected in many places in Europe, and everyone in the Chernobyl area saw what was happening. The point about it ‘would have been better if it had been kept a secret’ is just idle speculation.

        8) The area is irradiated and will be for many years. We can argue back and forth about how irradiated or how dangerous it is. But the bottom line is that it is irradiated, and most people would not want to live there.

        I didn’t send links to the above, but I can if you want. Although, I suspect you know all this stuff.

        I wanted to save the two links for some really interesting things I found when looking into the issue. First, Pripyat is amazingly well photographed. Google street view has some fascinating 360 views of the area:

        Zoom in and use the ‘street view ‘ icon. Really fascinating.

        Also, this website has a ton of great photos as well in the ‘Galleries’ section, but this part of it has more relevance to the above:

        And, finally, I’ll say that I largely agree with the author of that website’s conclusion located in the ‘About’ section:

        ‘I’m frequently asked if I’m against nuclear power. I believe it preferable to the use, and consequences, of fossil fuels.’

        • jfon Says:

          ‘ ..they also know to avoid certain areas and to avoid things like wild mushrooms. ‘
          Well, according to a New York Times feature ‘ Babushkas of Chernobyl’, – ‘ They eat vegetables grown in their gardens and berries and mushrooms picked in the woods.’
          The radiation damage that lead to the 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer, and nine deaths, all happened in the first few months after the accident. The gestation period of the cancer averages about five years, but the Iodine 131 isotope that causes it has only an eight day half-life. That means that after about two and a half months, the initial dose will have gone down by a factor of 1,000 (not counting iodine naturally excreted by the body, the ‘ biological half-life’). If the population had been advised not to eat dairy or leafy vegetables from the area for that two months, they would have been fine. But once the tiny volume of the thyroid gland had received that concentrated dose, overwhelming the body’s DNA repair mechanism, it didn’t matter whether they were living in the zone, or on the other side of the world – the genetic damage was already in place.
          The isotope causing the great majority of residual radiation in the zone now is much longer lived – Cesium 137 has a thirty year half-life. That means it’s around much longer, but also that a similar quantity will give the immune system much more time to repair any DNA breaks. Cesium also is found in most of the body, instead of being concentrated in the few grams of the thyroid, so again, the dose is far less intense. The beta ray emitted by cesium 137 is also just a bit more than half as energetic as that from iodine 131. In any case, although some models of dose-effect ratio had up to 4,000 cancers eventuating, there are normally millions of cancers among such a large population, and any increase has not been discernable. The country with the highest overall cancer rate is Australia, nuclear free by law, with 468 cases per 100,000. Belarus, which copped most of Chernobyl’s fallout, ranks number 32, with 260.
          ‘…there are plenty of documented cases of wildlife mutations in the area.’ The researcher who published the most papers on mutations in wildlife in the zone was a Dane named Anders Moller, who has subsequently been censured by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Let’s see if I can get this straight—-if in the 70’s and 80’s we had spent $$$ on nukes, maybe we could have held GHG emissions down to the point where we would not have suffered the TENS and HUNDREDS of billions of dollars worth of “hits” that the increasingly extreme weather spawned by AGW has caused over the past couple of decades. The hurricanes, extreme downpours, wildfires, and the unprecedented floods and tornadoes that are devastating the Midwest lately might have been avoided or at least pushed forward in time.

      Instead, we continue to burn coal, and if we replace it, we do so with natural gas because RE is sputtering along and most new RE is eaten up by growth in demand anyway. And the out of control “big ticket investors” like Buffet are sinking $$$ into fossil fuels with the encouragement of the powers that be—-why do you think they’d listen to anyone or anything other than the sound of money?

      BTW, I said that your premise was ALMOST laughable—-nothing is very funny in this whole scenario.

  4. redskylite Says:

    Another interesting article with lively responses; haven’t seen the HBO episode yet – but look forward to viewing the historic event.

    Agree that coal power stations should be replaced, with non carbon as quickly as possible, and the two largest in the U.S.A reside in Georgia rated at over 7000MW.

    If nuclear best fits then nuclear it should be. Not sure what the winds and sun is like down in Georgia.

    But the choice should be tendered and decided by impartial, qualified specialists, Who make the decision on time, cost, risks ease of operation and benefits. I suspect nuclear might well be the winner for this size of over ten London Arrays, unless the whole grid and concept is redesigned , but time is running out, for fancy solutions.

    It is frustrating to know that no retirement plan exists for these monster coal burning outfits.

    France’s nuclear industry struggles on. . . .

    “With its new reactors needing modifications and its older ones awaiting costly updates, France’s nuclear industry is in trouble.

    LONDON, 27 May, 2019 − EDF, France’s nuclear industry leader and the last European company trying to build large reactors, has had further setbacks to its flagship project that make the company’s future prospects look bleak.”

    • redskylite Says:

      And the Coal Power station replacement/retirement plan is not going to be encouraged by you know who . Maybe WWII is a good analogy, only this time the threat is (nearly) universal.

      Trump Administration Hardens Its Attack on Climate Science

      President Trump has rolled back environmental regulations, pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, brushed aside dire predictions about the effects of climate change, and turned the term “global warming” into a punch line rather than a prognosis.

      Now, after two years spent unraveling the policies of his predecessors, Mr. Trump and his political appointees are launching a new assault.

    • redskylite Says:

      Still other encouragement to retire those polluting monsters. . . ..

      Rank Station Capacity in MW
      1 Robert W Scherer Power Plant 3,520
      2 Bowen Power Station 3,499
      3 Gibson Generating Station 3,345
      4 Monroe Power Plant 3,280

      “As clean energy advocates urge retirement of fossil fuel power plants, securitization has become a billion-dollar word with huge implications for who will pay for and who will own the clean energy future.”

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