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CONVERGE | Entertainment

7 Shocking Facts Chernobyl Taught Us About Nuclear Meltdowns

October 22, 2019

HBO's popular miniseries offers a history lesson you won't forget.


ChernobylHBO’s most popular miniseries of the summer, has managed to both entertain and horrify viewers in just 5 intense episodes. It’s so good that Variety ranked it as one of the best shows of all time with a 9.7 out of 10-star rating. What made it such a hit? This dramatic miniseries offers a history lesson you won’t forget, immersing viewers in late-period Soviet society to experience one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters and its aftermath. 


Here are seven shocking facts Chernobyl taught us about nuclear meltdowns, as defined by history.


1. Safety First, Always


Episode one of the TV series opens with a flashback to the night it all went wrong on April 25, 1986. The nuclear meltdown ensued after Soviet technicians disabled the emergency core cooling system and other safety equipment to perform routine testing on one of the reactors. Several operating mistakes then followed, leading to a buildup of steam that caused the reactor to overheat. Fires then broke out, including one inside the reactor that lasted 10 days. The explosions sent a fireball shooting into the sky releasing radioactive material. The accident at Chernobyl released more radiation than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and it could’ve been prevented had proper safety procedures been followed. 


2. The Truth Will Always Reveal Itself


The incident at the nuclear power plant occurred during the Cold War – a time when discretion was thought to be of the utmost importance. So, when the nuclear meltdown occurred, the Soviet Union attempted to keep things under wraps – putting residents’ health at risk as radiation continued to circulate in the air. Chernobyl illustrated the lack of concern for people in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant in a cold-as-ice speech delivered by the character Zharkov, “No one leaves. And cut the phone lines. Contain the spread of misinformation. That is how we keep the people from undermining the fruits of their own labor.” Despite their efforts, Swedish air monitors revealed the truth, forcing the Soviet government to reluctantly take responsibility and act.  


3. Communication is Key


As mentioned, the Soviet government kept its own citizens in the dark about the risks of radiation. It took days after the incident before a nearby school was closed and the public was warned to stay inside. 36 hours after the accident, Soviet authorities finally began evacuating those who lived nearby. By that time many had already felt the effects of the radiation and suffered from vomiting and headaches. As the extent of the catastrophe was not communicated, residents believed they would return home. Many people left their pets and valuables behind, and were sadly never allowed to back. Ultimately, all land within an 18.6-mile radius of the nuclear power plant was closed off. Today, it is an abandoned area that has reopened as a tourist attraction. 


4. Radiation Poisoning is Not a Dramatization


Chernobyl had several grueling scenes highlighting the effects of radiation exposure, and they are no exaggeration. The Soviet Union admitted to 31 deaths caused directly by the Chernobyl incident. However, according to the United Nations and the World Health Organization, the accident's total death toll from cancer is projected to reach 4,000 for people exposed to high doses of radiation. 


5. Money Is Always Involved  


After the reactor known as Unit 4 exploded, the nuclear plant was shut down…but not for long. Within two years the other three reactors were restarted, despite their designs being allegedly flawed and radiation contamination still present at the site. Thousands of plant operators went to work every day risking their health to radiation exposure. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that the last reactor finally closed. But it took financial assistance from other countries to get the Soviet Union to do so.  


6. Politics Usually Play a Part


Chernobyl captures all the politics that went into the nuclear meltdown and its aftermath. Soviets initially tried to clear the site with remote-controlled robots to prevent further radiation exposure to workers, however, when the machines started breaking down in the toxic atmosphere, officials began using human labor. Due to the tensions of the Cold War, the Soviet government did not seek assistance in cleaning up the area even though the U.S. had robots that could have aided in the decontamination.


7. Consequences Can Last a Long Time


In episode 1 of Chernobyl, firefighters and emergency workers are seen risking their lives to drop sand, lead and baron into the reactor core to help prevent the release of radioactive material. During the time of the actual accident, they did this for several days after the reactor failed. The TV series may be over, but the mess from the incident remains. The Ukrainian government predicts the site will not be cleared until 2065. Unfortunately, radioactive particles will remain in the environment for hundreds of generations to come. 


If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of the past, you can still catch Chernobyl on HBO with Contour TV from Cox. Watch and learn. 


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