HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ Has Viewers Wondering About The Death Toll As A Result Of The Nuclear Disaster

While it is believed that only two people died initially, many more deaths followed.

Adam Nagaitis stars as Vasily Ignatenko in HBO's 'Chernobyl'
Liam Daniel / HBO

While it is believed that only two people died initially, many more deaths followed.

HBO’s latest limited series, Chernobyl, is a chilling reminder of the nuclear disaster that happened in 1986 in what is now known as northern Ukraine. As a result of the nuclear explosion and subsequent meltdown, many people died. Just how many is still largely unknown as people are still dying as a result of Chernobyl. However, there are some known numbers regarding the death toll.

On April 25 and 26, 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a test at V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station’s fourth reactor was conducted that went horribly wrong, resulting in an explosion and fire. After the initial explosion, an emergency crew was called out in an attempt to put out the fire, according to National Geographic.

During that initial explosion, it has been reported that two people died. Subsequently, many of the emergency crew that arrived to put out the fire later wound up in the hospital. Many workers at Chernobyl were also hospitalized following the explosion. In addition to the first two deaths, many others died directly as a result of that first incident. According to PBS, that number totals 29. Although, as Bustle points out, the death toll as a result of Chernobyl is heavily contested. By comparison, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation believes that 54 people died.

HBO's 'Chernobyl' miniseries shows a depiction of the initial explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

After the initial explosion, officials eventually realized the extent of the disaster and a 19-mile exclusion zone was established. Residents inside this zone were told to evacuate and would never be allowed to return. The evacuation took place approximately 36 hours after the incident. As a result of this delay, it is believed that many more lives were put at risk as radiation from the Chernobyl explosion was now circulating.

This death toll is actually much harder to place a count on. After all, some scientists believe that the effects of radiation fallout from Chernobyl could affect people for generations as their genes have been altered due to the contamination more than 30 years ago.


Radiation scientists Ian Fairlie and David Sumner, who did a study on Chernobyl for 20 years following the disaster, believe the final death toll could sit somewhere between 30,000 to 60,000. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) places the final death toll much lower than that at approximately 4,000 individuals. Once again, this report was based on evidence provided in the 20 years after the disaster occurred at Chernobyl.

Chernobyl is currently airing on HBO every Monday at 9 p.m.until June 3.