Chernobyl: Everything fans need to know after watching the series

Chernobyl: Everything fans need to know after watching the series

The world has been shook to the core many times throughout history. However, Chernobyl was an accident like no other and is thought to have taken the lives of thousands of people. However, the extent of the pain and suffering was not widely broadcast at the time, and it took the world a long time to really come to terms with what happened. The HBO show ‘Chernobyl’ caught the attention of millions of people around the world, who were interested to know about the events that unfolded on April 26, 1986.

Of course, the show can’t depict everything accurately, word-for-word, moment-to-moment, and shows viewers in its dramatized way, what happened. However, since watching the show, people have had their own questions about the events that occurred at Chernobyl, and what’s happened since. The show highlighted some of the scientific facts behind radiation, which has also raised questions about the site as it stands today as well as filling in some of the gaps the show struggled to bridge. Here are some of the questions we’ve been left with since watching Chernobyl.

How many victims did the explosion claim?

The explosion itself claimed the lives of two people who were in the direct way of the reaction. These people did not survive and likely passed away instantly. However, there were at least twenty-nine other lives who were subjected to the severe radiation that followed.

Workers were not made aware that the safety test was going ahead, so they had no idea that anything could go wrong when disaster struck. This proved fatal to the workers in the nuclear power station.

What happened to Chernobyl’s ‘suicide squad’?

In the series, viewers witnessed three men take on what seemed to be an impossible mission, but it saved millions of people from disaster. While the series dramatized the events, a recount of what happened did explain that the men did head into a pitch black basement that sat underneath a melting reactor that was ‘slowly burning’ down to them.

These men seemed to survive despite everything. One decided to write and publish his experiences. Another chose to remain in the industry and still works anonymously today. While they lost track of the third volunteer, he was still living life in 2015.

What are the health effects on people exposed to radiation?

It depends on how long someone is exposed to radiation. However, if someone is exposed to large quantities of radiation within a short period of time, then they are likely to develop acute radiation syndrome. This is called radiation sickness.

People exposed will feel nauseous and vomit within hours of being exposed. This will then lead to the person passing away painfully after several days or weeks. It takes a vast amount of radiation to trigger this reaction, but the consequences are severe and mostly irreversible. People who suffer from being close to a reaction and coming in direct contact may also suffer from radiation burns.

What was the size of the affected area?

The areas that suffered the worst are now apart of something called the ‘Exclusion Zone’ which circles a thirty-kilometer radius around the site. These areas are still considered uninhabitable as a result of the radiation that remains in the area.

However, the effects of the radiation were felt on a far larger scale than simply Chernobyl itself. The fallout stretched as far as the rest of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. The radiation spread and carried on the wind, affecting thousands of people who lived miles away. Scientists are still trying to work out how many people it has effected within these areas.

Do people still live there?

People were evacuated once officials took the disaster seriously. However, it meant that they had no time to gather up any of their belongings and were told to only bring necessary documentation with them. People even had to leave their pets behind.

This cause some people to try and return to their homes, to collect money, heirlooms, clothes, or simply to return and stay where they called home. One source suggests 2000 people live in Chernobyl, 150 of which live illegally within the exclusion zone. Some of these people now include workers of the plant as well as those who found there way back.

What are the consequences of living in Chernobyl?

Chernobyl is still considered a ghost town, these people are living in a dilapidated environment that has been left to its devices, except for the plant itself, and in some instances, the nearby town of Pripyat.

The people living within the exclusion zone will be subjected to various levels of radiation that will significantly increase the risk of cancer. Their lifespans will be reduced considerably as a result, and this effect continues as they continue to be exposed to radiation.

Do animals still live in Chernobyl?

There were distinct scenes within the show that showed military men finding animals, particularly dogs, and ending their lives in order to prevent the spread of radiation. In some ways, they also believed they ended their suffering.

However, the exclusion zone is now home to a whole host of animals that have thrived since very few humans have inhabited the area. Animals include wolves, brown bears, horses, bison, lynxes and a whole variety of bird species have found a home within the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

What about the animals?

While the area has become the natural home to hundreds of species, it hasn’t been without risk or change. Many scientists have discovered that some of these animals have a shorter lifespan, suffer from albinism, or have another noticeable difference to their genetic makeup.

However, people have been fascinated by how resilient and even adaptive the animal residents are within this region. It has not put them off; instead, they may have proved more resistant to the radiation.

Were other parts of Europe affected?

While Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine may have suffered the worst when it came to radiation exposure, they also weren’t the only countries who were exposed. Radiation spread as far as Spain and the United Kingdom, with various degrees of severity in between.

Scientists have argued that it’s impossible to prove exactly how far the damage went and how badly it affected citizens in other countries, but the detection of radiation was extensive. Germany advised not to let children play outside for some time.

What happened to Anatoly Dyatlov?

Dyatlov was the supervisor for the safety test and who appears to be the person responsible for much of the dangerous recklessness. Dyatlov was removed from his post and sentenced to ten years of hard labor. He wasn’t the only one, he served alongside two of his assistants.

He lived to see the end of his sentence in 1990 but passed away five years later at 64-years-old as a result of the radiation exposure. He maintained that nothing was his fault.

Would things be different if it weren’t for Dyatlov?

In the series, it is heavily depicted that Dyatlov was largely responsible for the accident and that it might have all been avoided if he had listened to his colleagues. However, sources have claimed that this is not the case. The system was designed so that people followed orders.

While two of the workers were depicted as trying to do the right thing, sources claimed this would never have happened as they had to follow procedures as they were instructed.

Why did they make Ulana Khomyuk a composite character?

The series portrays the Chernobyl disaster as a very lonely situation for Valery Legasov; however, there were actually hundreds of scientists that worked alongside him. This was going to be tough to portray in a miniseries.

Showmakers composited all these scientists into Ulana Khomyuk who seems to work out the impossible. Those are hundreds of minds in one. They also decided to make her female as they felt the Soviet Union was progressive in terms of women in science and medicine.

Could Ulana Khomyuk have spoken the way she did?

The show saw Ulana Khomyuk appear unabashed by the society in front of her, while she could not expose the system as Legasov did, she still spoke as if she were equal to the Soviet judges.

While the Soviet Union may have accepted women in medicine and science, they were extremely regressive in regards to general attitudes toward women. Ulana would neither have been allowed to stand and make a comment nor speak the way she did while on the podium.

Have they solved the RBMK problem?

The problem with the RBMK reactors was that they had control rods which were supposed to act as a failsafe if they ever needed to shut the reaction down. However, on the tip of the rods are graphite, which sped the reaction up instead of shutting it down.

This was a fatal flaw within all Soviet reactors that Legasov pointed out. These reactors have been said to be retrofitted with a more appropriate failsafe. It also included proper safety training for staff.

Did the plant immediately shut down?

The plant was not immediately shut down, and wouldn’t be shut down for another couple of decades. While reactor four was not usable due to the explosion, there were still three reactors that could be used to produce power.

Reactor two was damaged by a fire and had to be shut down in 1991 and, after an international call for the reactor to be shut down, reactor one was closed. It took until 2000 and many negotiations to get them to close reactor three.

Why did they keep it going?

The Soviet Union’s economy was struggling, and they were behind on their technological advances, this meant they needed the power supplied by the station to keep nearby towns and cities working. However, decommissioning a nuclear plant is also extremely expensive.

This is because the radioactive materials can’t just be left unsupervised, so it took over a decade for the plant to finally be shut down. However, it hasn’t been left completely abandoned and still has a function today.

Is it safe to visit Chernobyl today?

In a manner of speaking it is safe to visit Chernobyl today, although it isn’t easy. Many thousands of people visit the site to witness the utter destruction and horror it has caused. It has been open to visitors since 2011.

A few years ago, people had to wear radiation suits; however, a layer to cover most of the body is now suitable. People have to submit their ID at least ten days before and be accompanied by a tour guide at all times.

How many victims were there in total?

This is a highly disputed figure to this day since hundreds of thousands of people suffered from long-term health effects. The official Soviet number remains at 31; however, other scientists have estimated it to be somewhere between 4,000 and 93,000.

Some figures have suggested that the toll is more like 500,00 up to millions. The numbers are unknown as it’s tough to prove if there is a direct link, but the fact remains that cancer rates in children increased after Chernobyl.

What will happen to the plant now?

The plant is still incredibly dangerous and cannot be home to anyone long term. There are still large pockets of radiation that can prove fatal to anyone exposed for a prolonged period of time. The reactors are not safe enough to use.

It will take several decades to decommission the other three reactors as it is a dangerous and expensive process. As for reactor 4, it’s future is uncertain due to the hazardous radiation that remains.

How can people work there?

The plant is currently a workplace for over a hundred workers who manage the site, they include tour guides, builders, cleaners, and so on. All this is necessary to maintain the tourism as well as the plant itself.

Workers can only work up to five hours a day for a month before having fifteen days off. This is so they don’t suffer from prolonged exposure to radiation that could cause them significant problems later on in life.

Could it have been worse?

While the explosion of reactor 4 was poorly managed, it was still dealt with enough to prevent the entire of Europe becoming an exclusion zone. By sending in the ‘suicide squad,’ they prevented another explosion which could have caused all of the reactors to go.

This would have been catastrophic and would have devastated most, if not all, of Europe and Russia. So, it could have been a whole lot worse.