What HBO's 'Chernobyl' gets right (and wrong) about the world's worst nuclear power plant accident
- The HBO series, "Chernobyl," gets plenty of things right about the nuclear power plant disaster that likely exposed hundreds of thousands of people to radiation.
- To adapt the story for television, "Chernobyl" director Craig Mazin had to invent a character and adjust the chronology of a few events.
- While some circumstances are still shrouded in mystery, we now know that the incident was far more catastrophic than Soviet officials initially let on.
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Retelling the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is an exercise in un-burying the truth.
In the wake of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident, which forced the entire city of Pripyat in the former USSR to evacuate after being exposed to toxic levels of radiation, Soviet officials publicly downplayed the incident. To this day, scientists are still working to understand the effects of the fatal explosion.
What we do know is that the core of a nuclear reactor opened, sending plumes of radioactive material into the air. The toxic fumes not only contaminated the local vegetation and water supply, but also poisoned nearby residents, some of whom went on to develop cancer.
Within three months of the disaster, more than 30 people had died of acute radiation sickness.
"We can only estimate the real effects on people's lives," said Jan Haverkamp, a senior nuclear energy expert at Greenpeace, who said the catastrophe likely had a severe impact on hundreds of thousands of people.
While developing his HBO series, "Chernobyl," writer and producer Craig Mazin approached conflicting accounts of the event with a degree of caution.
"I always defaulted to the less dramatic because the things that we know for sure happened are so inherently dramatic," he told Variety's "TV Take" podcast.
For the most part, the documentary is hauntingly accurate - with the exception of a few artistic liberties. We fact-checked some of the major plot points from the series to determine what's true and what verges on myth.
Note: This article contains spoilers of episodes 1-4.
MYTH: The Chernobyl fire gave off nearly twice the radiation of Hiroshima every hour.
FACT: The Soviets tried to use robots to clean the contamination site, but eventually resorted to human labor.
MYTH: A Soviet nuclear physicist named Ulana Khomyuk helped orchestrate the cleanup.
FACT: Squads were ordered to shoot animals, which carried elevated levels of radiation.
MYTH: A steam explosion following the disaster could have left much of Europe uninhabitable.
FACT: A young firefighter with a pregnant wife died in a hospital shortly after the explosion.
MYTH: A helicopter crashed shortly after the explosion.
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